Motorists and truckers entering the U.S. from Mexico at the Calexico East Port of Entry could in a few years wait on average a third less time thanks to support from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
At the Imperial County Transportation Commission meeting on Dec. 12 it was announced the commission recently secured a $20 million federal grant. The funds will be used to construct additional northbound driving lanes at the East Port by widening a bridge over the All-American Canal, noted Mark Baza, commission executive director.
“It’s really one of our highly prioritized projects,” said Baza. “It’s definitely beneficial to the economy. Many jobs are tied to the bridge crossings. A lot of Mexican citizens spend money at our shopping centers.”
The $30 million-plus project could be completed in 2022.
There are currently five northbound vehicle driving lanes and two truck lanes. The project would add two lanes to each, Baza explained. It is separate from a plan to add inspection lanes north of the bridge, which is neither funded nor part of this project, he added.
Driving lanes are where vehicles wait to cross the border, while inspection lanes are where vehicles are checked by federal officers and admitted to the U.S.
During peak usage vehicles awaiting entry at the East Port can be stuck in traffic for up to three hours. Prior studies showed with additional lanes travel could be substantially expedited.
Besides being an inconvenience, long border wait times are costly to business and create more pollution, studies have shown. Due to reduced wait times there would be far less vehicles idling and much less pollution from ozone and particulate matter.
Despite the federal monies, the project still depends on a patchwork of funding being sewn, though Baza maintained he is confident there are additional avenues of state and federal resources.
Along with the grant there is an expected $3 million California Transportation Commission grant and $1.8 million the local commission has in its regional highway set-aside fund. That still leaves a gap of $5-$10 million for a total cost of $30 to $35 million.
Still, due to the time required for appovals, design and construction it will be some time before border crossers reap the benefits of the port expansion.
All needed documents have been filed and the project is undergoing an environmental impact report in partnership with the California Department of Transportation that is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Next, the design phase will take about a year, after which the commission will solicit construction bids. Construction would take another year, meaning new lanes could open some time in 2022.
No lanes closure would be needed as construction would only happen in truck lanes from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and car lanes from, midnight to 6 a.m. when the port is closed, officials said.
Transit measures approved
In other business Baza provided an update of a short-range transit plan to cover the next five years. It is a blue print to help identify grant funding from government agencies. Projects high in priority include added early evening round trips to Imperial Valley College for the express route No. 21, an additional trip to Brawley, Bombay Beach, Niland and Calipatria on the route 51, and add an IVT Ride (dial for service) three times a week to Heber. The commission approved the proposal 7-0.
The commission also unanimously approved expanding ticket sales to retail outlets. Currently, some city halls sell ticket booklets from $12 for seniors to $20 for regular riders. Under the measure merchants would get a commission of one percent.
“We’re creating an opportunity for retailers to earn nominal compensation for their cooperation,” said Baza.