LOS ANGELES — After six years laying groundwork, a project to construct a new $715 million Otay Mesa Port of Entry and a connecting highway at the Mexican border in San Diego appears to be moving forward.
The San Diego Association of Governments staff plans to present a “sketch-level” report at its April board meeting to provide low and high estimates on projected toll revenues. A more complete traffic and revenue study is expected to be done in June.
The final environmental impact report — which has to be completed before a project can qualify for matching federal funding — is expected to be finished in April as well, said Marney Cox, chief economist for SANDAG, the regional planning agency.
Cox said the impetus for the project was a study that found billions of dollars in economic activity are lost each year because of significant wait times at border crossings.
The project would create a third major border crossing along the San Diego border with Tijuana, about two miles east of the existing Otay Mesa crossing.
The U.S. project includes State Route 11, a 2.5-mile, four-lane highway, and plans to develop a 100-acre site. It would be the only point of entry of the three in San Diego to charge tolls.
It is designed to cater specifically to business owners and manufacturers engaged in cross-border trade who would be willing to pay a fee to avoid the four-hour wait common for commercial vehicles traveling north at the other two San Diego border crossings, Cox said.
The border crossing will connect to a major highway in Mexico, which is developing 80 acres on its side.
“I think the biggest proposition is that regardless of what we do in the states or the Mexicans do on their side, the transportation structure leading to port of entry on the Mexican side is reaching capacity,” said Mario Orso, project director for the California Department of Transportation.
“If this region wants to keep being competitive in import or export or in manufacturing, we are going to need additional capacity at the border for freight,” he added.
The projected cost for the ultimate build-out is $715 million, but SANDAG will likely start by building a one-lane highway and developing 50 acres, which would cost $400 million, Cox said.
“SANDAG has to be careful that it doesn’t build more capacity than needed so the revenues will be enough to support the bond debt,” Cox said. “We are working with Mexican manufacturers to gauge interest on creating a subscription service, which will help us to size it correctly.”
The association hopes to break ground in late 2013 on the first phase connecting State Route 11 to 905. It will be funded by public money derived primarily from state infrastructure funds from bonds issued by the state a few years ago. The second phase, to complete two miles of roadway, and the third phase, to construct the port of entry, will begin in 2014 and 2015.
Once the financial plan is complete, SANDAG will work on obtaining project permits and then start working with Barclays, the investment bank selected to create the financial plan to go to market with on the bond issuance, Cox said.
Local and state funding is paying for soft costs like the EIR, but Cox said the hard costs will be paid for by bonds backed by toll revenues.
In addition to SANDAG and Caltrans, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. General Services Administration and their counterparts in Mexico are involved.
Funding will come from proposed tolls, fees, and other revenues, such as the state’s Proposition 1B Trade Corridors Improvement Fund.