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A Faster Border Crossing Could Be on Its Way — Finally

An influx of money from Congress could eventually speed up border lines at San Ysidro. California lawmakers have pushed the $128.3 million overhaul of border-crossing infrastructure for months.

The work-in-progress overhaul of the San Ysidro Port of Entry got a hefty boost this week when the House Appropriations Committee revealed details of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes money for the third and final phase of the project.

The fiscal year 2014 omnibus bill includes $128.3 million for the border-crossing infrastructure projects California lawmakers have been rallying around for months.

The legislation represents a compromise of both Democrat and Republican priorities. It restores funding for domestic agencies and eases sequester skimping, but shortchanges some agency budgets that Democrats had pushed to be higher. House lawmakers told the Washington Post they expected the bill to go over well on both sides of the aisle.

The influx of money could eventually speed up border lines: Phase III specifically would expand southbound roadways and border facilities.

READ MORE: A Tale of Two Binational Cities

According to a September report by SANDAG, San Ysidro is the busiest international border crossing. The agency estimates 2012 saw 55.5 million crossings between Tijuana and San Diego, slight decrease compared with recent years.

But those crossings were subject to remarkably long waits. A 2007 report estimated the region lost $7.2 billion in output and 62,000 jobs that year because of delays and inefficiencies.

Here’s a refresher from April, when President Barack Obama submitted his proposed budget with funds for the projects included:

James Clark, director-general of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mexico Business Center and the San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition, said cash for improvements at the San Ysidro crossing is crucial for the region.

“It’s just so important to our economy. It’s low-hanging fruit,” said Clark.

Speeding things up at the border was one of former Mayor Bob Filner’s initial crusades. He emphasized binational relations in his January 2013 inauguration speech and made early go-sees across the border. Lisa Halverstadt reported:

Lesser waits might encourage San Diego tourists who might easily walk or drive through the San Ysidro crossing to spend an afternoon in Tijuana. Shoppers from Baja California, who already descend on San Diego County shopping centers by the thousands, could visit more regularly. Business leaders on both sides of the border could cross without fear of losing hours of precious work time waiting in line.

Instead, cross-border relations are hampered by massive lines at the border.

“People face very arbitrary wait times that can go two, three, four hours and they won’t cross,” Filner said. “Why put yourself through that if it’s just to have a meal on the other side or visit relatives? You may just put that off.”

The amount approved this week by the Appropriations Committee is less than the original sum Obama asked for in his budget proposal. Government Service Agency resources will round out the rest of the $226 million needed to finish the project and get border visitors on their way.

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