SAN DIEGO -- The San Ysidro Port of Entry is America's busiest border crossing but it also may be the most frustrating border crossing, with wait times often surpassing two hours. That's why the federal government is launching a $557 million construction project to expand the port.
Government leaders from the U.S. and Mexico broke ground Thursday on an expanded port of entry.
The number of northbound inspection booths will increase from 24 to 63, by increasing the number of traffic lanes and double-stacking the booths. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is building the expansion.
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said American ports of entry are vital to cross-border commerce and to U.S.-Mexico relations.
“They connect us, they protects us, and they bridge the gaps between us,” she said.
Senator Barbara Boxer, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán all showed up to turn a shovel of sand. Hundreds of well-dressed people turned out for the event. The weather was brisk and the security was tight.
The evolution of the U.S.-Mexico border into a militarized zone was clearly seen in the many well-armed customs officers. A military color-guard ceremony preceded the V.I.P. speeches. The highlight of the event was the soaring tenor voice of Maximino Melchor Vasquez, a member of Opera Tijuana, who sang the Mexican national anthem.
All of the speakers praised the port expansion. But Democratic Congressman Bob Filner aired a note of caution, and took a jab at Republicans when he warned that budget cuts could imperil the project's latter stages.
“The majority party in the house -- I forget their name -- they cut a billion dollars from the GSA construction budget,” he said.
Congress has already funded the project's phase 1, which includes most of the northbound lanes. The General Services Administration hopes to complete phase 1 in 2014. The expansion ultimately seeks hopes to reduce wait times from two hours to about 30 minutes.