Uniting across borders
By creating a new, 21st century border crossing for the San Diego-Baja California mega-region, The SR11/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project will not only enhance regional mobility, but also facilitate job growth, create economic opportunities, and help reduce emissions
A joint venture between the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) – in collaboration with state and federal partners in the United States and Mexico – the State Route 11 (SR n11)/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project (OME nPOE) is designed to improve the commercial movement of goods, services and passengers across the US-Mexico border. Situated where San Diego and the Baja California regions meet, this 21st century border crossing will nbe a clean, green and smart port of entry, which will greatly enhance regional mobility, whilst also fuelling economic growth and binational trade.
Over the years, the US-Mexico border region has consistently grown, and as of 2018, the existing Otay Mesa and Tecate commercial ports of entry were found to process a combined $47.5 billion in total bilateral trade. With that number expected to increase in the coming years, it was determined that a new port of entry was required to facilitate further njob growth and new economic opportunities nfor the private sector on both sides of the nborder. The answer is the SR 11/OME POE Project.
Mario Orso is the Trade Corridor Director for the undertaking, which involves working on behalf of both SANDAG and Caltrans. Mario leads teams consisting of a wide range of professionals in different disciplines from both agencies to deliver the SR 11/OME POE Project. Here, he provides some background behind the project coming to life and its progress to date. “In recent decades, we have witnessed exponential increases in movement across the border between San Diego and the Baja California, whether that be in the form of business transportation n– trucks, heavy goods vehicles etc. – or commuters and/or tourists,” Mario begins. “In 2006, studies were carried out that revealed up to $6 billion in trade was being lost due to border wait times. Such stark figures highlighted the importance of developing a new border crossing for the region, and what followed was a cost benefit analysis study, which determined that the cost benefit for building the new port of entry could be as high as ten-to-one.”
Today, the project has what Mario refers to as three major pillars or components, the right-of-way, the roadway infrastructure, and the port of entry. “The first of these – the ‘right-of-way’ element – involved buying up all of the property for the highways and the port of entry itself,” he explains. “What traditionally happened is the Federal Government came and built the border crossing and then the local or state governments constructed adequate transportation facilities around the port of entry. This time, we the state completed the acquisition of all the right-of-way elements of the project. Then, we planned and designed the roadways leading into and out of the port of entry, because we know that you cannot have a good heart without good arteries.
“Now, where we find ourselves is in the process of constructing all of the road ways, with the major component currently taking shape being the final piece of State Route 11 – together with some of the connector ramps there – which is being worked on by Skanska. We are also channelling efforts towards bringing the port of entry element to life, through potential funding or by striking some form of partnership, potential using the toll revenue. We are now getting ready to bring in all of the utilities that will be required at the port of entry, and we will soon start levelling the paths so that we can begin the construction of the facility. We have approached this phase of the project with a view towards greater modernization, be it in the form of more dynamic trip assignment and signage, or more intelligent transportation systems.”
To date, approximately $564 million has been invested into the SR 11/OME POE Project on the US side. Meanwhile, in Mexico, it too has acquired the right-of-way element to the project, and at time of print was in the process of closing a deal for the design of its port of entry. Also, with Mexico having now completed a traffic and revenue study of its own, as of March 2021, the two sides are in a position to commence with revenue sharing negotiations.
In addition to SANDAG and Caltrans, other key stakeholders in the project include the Administration, and the General Service Administration. As one can imagine, maintaining co-ordination between so many different agencies and entities is no easy task, particularly when some of these are based on both sides of an international border. In spite of this – and also in the face of disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – everyone involved in the project has excelled to the point where it is currently several months ahead of schedule!
The project is also continuing to be delivered with the utmost respect and sensitivity towards the environment, with sustainability playing a huge part in every activity undertaken. “In California, we pride ourselves on being worldwide leaders when it comes to sustainability, and this is being reflected in the decisions and investments we are making for the SR 11/OME POE Project,” Mario proclaims. “For example, our intelligent transportation systems and strategies have been designed around reducing vehicle waiting times, and thus also reducing emissions. Currently, commercial and passenger vehicles can wait for hours to cross the border. We are also signed up to the Governor’s Sustainable Freight Action Plan, which is a pilot project that will see us developing a border waiting time system, which utilizes data from all of the border crossing points to advise drivers of current waiting times. This data will also be able to be fed back to border agencies so as to better improve efficiencies across the board.”
The endeavour of Mario and his teams is to open the facility in late 2024 or early 2025. While he himself describes it as a medium-sized facility, the purchase of significant acreage around the site leaves it with the tantalizing opportunity to expand even further in the future. “Once the project is complete, I want those who have been responsible for this to have left behind the tools and foundations that will allow it to grow as demand increases, and to be able to adapt to and embrace additional new technologies that may arise,” Mario states. “It is important to note that along the way we have always taken into consideration the resiliency and redundancies of the border itself, so as to prepare the project and the port of entry to all manner of potential eventualities.”
The SR 11/OME POE Project is unquestionably a project that is being watched closely in many different quarters, and should go on to be recognized as a monumental success on an international stage. As Mario concludes, however, its completion will no doubt mean the most to those it will benefit at ground level. “Here in the San Diego/Baja California region, we consider ourselves to be one big border community, and what we want this project’s legacy to be is a showcase of what can be achieved when we work together. Often, families and businesses here can be divided by the US-Mexico border, so for many, going back and forth across it has become part of our daily lives. As such, we understand the long-term value of making The SR 11/OME POE Project a success. After all, the more doors we can open to people on either side of the border to navigate through, the better we believe it will be for everybody!”
The SR11/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project