Border Toll Lanes?



San Diego Red

According to a recent report by El Mexicano, between ten and twelve express lanes will be installed in San Ysidro. Unlike the SENTRI and Ready lanes which are express due to the type of documentation required to use the lanes, these lanes would be express for those who are willing to pay a toll to cross – expected to be around fifty pesos per vehicle, or a little less than five dollars. These so called “Express Lanes” are the most recent proposal announced by officials involved in the border expansion project.

According to Oscar Escobedo Carignan, the Secretary of Tourism for the State of Baja California, the lanes would be located in what is now a demolition site, the site of the Puerta Mexico, also known as la concha or “the shell” building. Much controversy has surrounded the demolition of this building which some civic groups in Tijuana believed had historical value and should have been preserved.

Built in 1965 by one of Mexico’s most important modernist architects, Mario Pani, the building which was once a landmark under which thousands of motorists passed through over time became entrapped in the middle of the busiest land border crossing in the world. The border crossing had outgrown its shells (according to the federal government), and they are now being wiped away by the tides of expansion.

Business groups and local chambers of commerce supported the federal government’s decision to remove La Concha as part of a massive restructuring of the San Ysidro border crossing. The long border wait times have long been a hindrance for commerce and tourism in Tijuana. Even now with a revitalization of the region in terms of cuisine and business opportunities, the border waits are bad enough to scare tourists from visiting south of the border.

Two phases into the reconfiguration of the busiest border crossing has already resulted in much needed relief for border crossers, with border wait times dropping by more than half that of the pre-expansion average. The third phase of expansion, expected to be completed in 2018, just recently was allocated the final funding needed by the U.S. federal government. The 216.8 million dollars will pay for completion of the new administrative buildings and pedestrian crossing facility.

The pedestrians as of now are the only group that have not yet felt the benefit of the border crossing expansion, and wait times can range anywhere from an hour to four hours on any given day. With no bathroom facilities, little shade, and no place to sit, the San Ysidro pedestrian crossing is uncomfortable at best and inhumane at worst.

Whats more, there is little doubt that if Tijuana wants to attract casual tourism back to the city, the pedestrian infrastructure must be drastically improved. A cross-border bike plan which is currently in the works will also be an important step forward for the region. According to authorities, new pedestrian facilities on the Mexico side will be finalized by the end of the month and will finally put an end to the pedestrian border crossing nightmare.

Escobedo states that these new Express Lanes will not reduce the number of lanes currently available to border crossers, and that these new lanes can be used by those that have a medical pass, or are staying at a hotel, or those that will cross to eat at a restaurant. So, it appears as though it will be the Mexican side collecting the toll. The Otay Mesa II border crossing will also collect a toll, varying according to the time of day and traffic volume, but this toll would be collected by the U.S. side to pay for the infrastructure and staffing.

Is charging a toll going to attract more visitors? If all the lines continue to be manned at the same rate with remarkably reduced wait times, what would be the benefit of charging visitors money to use equally short lanes. Isn’t the border already confusing enough with SENTRI lanes, Ready lanes, regular lanes, why add an additional lane to add to the confusion? Why not instead make it easier for people to cross the border from wherever they are in the city without making them navigate and scout for the right lane? Why not make the border wait the shortest possible for all vehicles, regardless of what type of documents they use or whether they are willing to pay?

More importantly, what will this money be used for? Will the money be used by Tijuana and Baja California to spend more money on tourism promotion or improved border infrastructure ? Will it pay for better tourism infrastructure, better convention centers, and cultural attractions? Or is it just a way to juice money out of border crossers. Given the large sacrifice that it took to make way for these lanes by tearing down what was considered by some to be a historical landmark, there better be an equally meritorious benefit to the city of Tijuana for charging money to visitors to cross the border. These are all questions that should be asked and answered.

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