May 1, 2009

Border-wait times… going south

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

By the end of this summer, Mexico will begin screening vehicles entering Tijuana from San Ysidro as part of a new program that will try to stop guns, drugs, and laundering money from entering the country, Mexican officials said this week.

Mexican customs will begin installation the Sistema de Aforo Vehicular (SIAVE) program one lane at a time, in both Puerta Mexico (San Ysidro) and Otay Mesa ports.

Construction will begin in late May or early June. Pilot testing should begin by late July, early August, said Lucero Zamora, Mexican Customs operation administrator, during a press conference at the San Diego office of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

De izquierda a derecha, Lucero Zamora, administradora de operaciones de Aduana México, Remedios Gómez Arnau, cánsul general de México en San Diego, y Carlos Ramírez Escoto, administrador de la aduana en Tijuana, durante una conferencia de prensa para anunciar que México comenzará a verificar a los vehículos que entran hacia Tijuana en el verano.

“It’s a matter of national security,” said Carlos Ramirez Escoto, Tijuana customs administrator. “This is of vital importance for Mexico.”

The program is part of an ongoing federal government war against drug cartels. Mexico has said that most of the weapons used by the cartels come from the United States.

As part of the new screenings, the technology used in the system includes automated license plate readers, scanners to identify the model of vehicles, and scales to weigh cars. A signal light will tell motorists if they are required to go into secondary inspection.

The system is already installed in several of the ports of entry in the northeastern part of Mexico, and ultimately by 2012 will be installed in all of the 19 ports of entry in the northern border and in the two southern border of Mexico.

The Tijuana ports are part of phase 2 of the project.

In average, 38,000 vehicles enter Mexico through the Puerta Mexico (San Ysidro) and Otay Mesa ports of entry. Also, an average of 3,700 vehicles enters during the peak hours of 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The goal of the program is that it will take about 8 to 12 seconds per vehicle. But critics say that, as it is, long lines, sometimes miles into Interstate 5 and 805, already exist, and that with this new program the south-bound border wait-times will increase. Currently, southbound wait-times can go up to 45 minutes.

Sometimes the Puerta Mexico and the Otay Mesa ports not always use all of the lanes available, causing waiting times to increase. Recent southbound checkpoints by U.S. officials have also increased the delays.

“We do understand that with the change, there will be some effects, but we don’t know exactly what will happen,” Lucero said. “But these are things we can’t avoid, because it is a matter of national security.”

People in Tijuana have said that this program will affect the moribund economy even more. As it is, tourism in the city is down, due to several factors, such as the drug violence, north-bound border wait-times, and, recently, the swine flu epidemic.

“We’re very aware that this will have an impact on both sides of the border, especially on border commuters,” said Remedios Gómez Arnau, consul general of Mexico in San Diego.

Bill Figge, Caltrans deputy district director, said that the Department of Transportation still needs to assess the effects the program will have on Interstate 5 and 805 traffic. He said that the agency is working closely with Mexican officials.

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