The state of California and Mexico committed Monday to completing a massive port of entry project in Otay Mesa by late 2024 by signing an agreement to establish the project's next steps.
Construction on the $1 billion binational Otay Mesa East Port of Entry project has been underway since 2013. Once completed, the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will be the second gate in Otay Mesa and the third between San Diego County and Mexico.
The memorandum of understanding agreement signed Monday by dignitaries on both sides of the border set key project milestones, identified where toll roads would be set on the U.S. side of the border and established a framework for the countries to develop revenue sharing policies for the funds.
"Adding a brand new port of entry will have a huge impact in terms of keeping this important trade and economic relationship moving forward," said California State Transportation Secretary David Kim.
Officials project the added port will provide an economic boost of $1.8 billion annually.
The third port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego is expected to ease transportation woes for commuters between the two countries to improve trade and commerce, and to reduce pollution along the border, according to Caltrans.
Before the pandemic, average wait times at San Diego County's border crossings was up to 2 hours for both passenger and commercial vehicles, Kim said.
"The main barrier to trade now are not legal or tariff barriers, but now it’s the waiting times along the border," said Roberto Velasco Alvarez, Mexico's Chief Foreign Relations Officer for North America.
Kim added that those idling cars can be detrimental to the region's air quality and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry is expected to ease those stressors by reducing wait times.
The upgraded POE will include a new border wait time detection system, advanced traveler information to improve route planning and an optimized port capacity. Upon the port's opening in late 2024, it is expected to reduce border crossing wait times at two nearby ports of entry by about 50%, according to officials.
Officials estimate the new port of entry will have an average wait time of 20 minutes.
The massive project is currently underway on a 100-acre plot -- about the same size as Disneyland.
Unlike the rest of the ports of entry between California and Mexico, this one will have a toll fee; it will not be located at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection booths, but on the United States bridge. The cost has not yet been specified and could vary between commercial and cargo cars.
Officials from Caltrans affirm that the innovative gate will be built according to the public's need, depending on demand.
"The idea is for the gate to grow, ”said Mario Orso, Border Corridor Director for Caltrans, District 11 told Telemundo 20 in Spanish. “For opening day, it may be 10 lanes, but the innovativeness of this gate is that it's designed in a way that you would not have to knock it down or make a new one."
About $565 million has already been committed to the Otay Mesa East project with California committing about $267 million so far. A bill making its way through the U.S. Congress could add another $12.5 million to the project.