Will the New El Chaparral Open on November 1, 2012?

By Jack E. George

Anyone who crosses the San Ysidro border, on a regular basis, is well aware of the on-going changes. Drivers have seen the booths moved, the lanes changed, and, seemingly, a frequent difference in scenery. However, the time is rapidly approaching for the scheduled opening of the state-of-the-art El Chaparral. Although some officials said El Chaparral would open in October, this seems doubtful; while the opening date of November 1, 2012 seems possible. However, as of this writing, it is not definite. In fact, contingencies plans are in place in case the date comes and goes without it opening.

There is no doubt that schedule differences, construction changes, and so forth have added confusion to an overwhelming project that has been considered a major joint effort, a binational project, between Mexico and the United States. People familiar with the project know that there are a number of key issues involved. These pertain to the San Ysidro Port of Entry and the El Chaparral Exit Port. The latter seems to be the project most pressing, at present, due to the time element involved.

It is estimated that there will be an average of 35,000 vehicles traveling into Mexico each day. The vehicles will soon be using the El Chaparral. One of the major issues still remains that the U.S. Congress has not approved the needed funding in order to build the link from southbound Interstate 5 to the new El Chaparral. Since this is a major roadblock, to the overall progress of the project, the Mexican government has built a temporary connector. This connector causes the six lanes on the I-5 to narrow to five lanes. It has been noted that these lanes curve sharply when nearing the El Chaparral. U.S. officials insist that that this will cause only minimal delays - generally of less than one minute for those vehicles entering Mexico via the new facility. Other officials predict the delay might be as much as a 29 minutes delay on an average day.

The delay is also subject to change as there are other variables involved. For example, according to Anthony Kleppe, a senior asset manager with the U.S. General Services Administration, which is overseeing the reconstruction of the San Ysidro port, the presented scenario is accurate only if Mexico makes certain that each of the inspection lanes are all staffed at El Chaparral during the crossing periods when traffic is at a peak. Also, the scenario does not consider the consequences, and the resulting congestion, that takes place when the U.S. law enforcement agencies decide to inspect southbound vehicles. The U.S. continues to express concerns that the five-lane temporary Mexican connection, resulting in the sharp curve, might contribute to longer crossing times at peak periods. This is resulting in a push for Mexico to keep open the present southbound processing lanes after El Chaparral is successfully operating. If this happens is still an unknown. Mario Escobedo, the head of the Business Coordinating Council, said he was told that two or three lanes will initially remain open. However, Baja California Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan has said that if more than the 21 gates are needed, in order to keep the traffic moving smoothly, via the El Chaparral, then Mexico will open more.

The present reconstruction cost involves $583 million for the U.S. for the three phrase project. As of this date two of the phrases have not been approved for financing. This has added more confusion to the issue as the U.S. has tried to determine how to connect southbound traffic to El Chaparral until the rerouting Interstate 5 money has been approved. It is possible that the earliest funding date might be fiscal year 2014. This then results in the rerouting project not being completed until 2016 or 2017. The Mexican side of the project, the building of El Chaparral, and the associated projects, has resulted in a price of approximately $67 million.

The question remains, "Will El Chaparral open on November 1?" It is this writer's opinion that we will not have an answer until the last minute. As of this writing, Javier Fernandez, the Land Ports of Entry Communications Specialist, when asked if El Chaparral will open on November 1, simply stated, "...I am going to refer you to my colleague, Ms. Traci Madison..." Ms. Traci Madison responded, "...the timing is the Mexican inspection station opening is driven by Mexico. The U.S. technical team is working very closely with our counterparts in Mexico on this transition. We have been informed of and are working towards the Nov 1 opening date. Any contingency plans or alternate dates would have to come from Mexico." it stands now there are only a few days remaining in October and a definitive answer has not been given. Yes, the plans are for November 1, but this depends on a number of variables. The good news is that it seems logical, if El Chaparral does not open at the first of the month, that drivers will not see much difference, from what they presently experience during their present entry into Mexico. This is because there are apparently contingency plans in place, such as the Baja California governors support that as many as 21 lanes, or more, will be opened in order for the traffic to flow smoothly.

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