According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), “A Land Port Of Entry [LPOE] is a facility that provides controlled entry into or departure from the United States for persons or materials.” Each LPOE “houses the U.S. Customs and Border Protection [CBP], and other federal inspection agencies responsible for the enforcement of federal laws pertaining to such activities.”

On the CBP website it states, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a complex mission at ports of entry with broad law enforcement authorities tied to screening all foreign visitors, returning American citizens and imported cargo that enters the U.S.” 

At this time there are a total of 167 LPOEs along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. The third-busiest commercial port of entry on the Mexico-United States border is the Otay Mesa site in San Diego, California.

This port of entry (POE) is one of three along the California border with Mexico in the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area. The Otay Mesa facility opened on January 24, 1985  1983; it was constructed to divert commercial truck traffic from the busy San Ysidro Port of Entry, which is now reserved for automobiles and pedestrians. 

Driving southbound on the U.S. side of the border the Otay Mesa POE is accessed by California SR 905. Otay Mesa is the southern terminus of the Interstate 5 corridor for commercial vehicles.

To learn more about Interstate 5, please see Part 1 and Part 2 of its history.

An aerial view of the Otay Mesa LPOE. (Photo: Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce)

Otay Mesa statistics

On January 24, 1985 the Otay Mesa LPOE opened following 17 years of planning. The crossing at Otay Mesa is the gateway for commercial trucks moving across California and Mexico. Nearly one million northbound trucks cross the border annually at Otay Mesa and the POE tallied roughly $50 billion in two-way trade with Mexico during the last fiscal year.

In the years since the Otay Mesa crossing opened, truck traffic has grown significantly. According to GSA, the Otay Mesa LPOE processed $18 billion in exports and $34 billion in imports during fiscal 2019. In addition to one million trucks (northbound and southbound) the POE also processed 6.6 million vehicles and 3.6 million pedestrians.

Trucks lined up on the Mexican side of the border wait to enter the United States at Otay Mesa. (Photo: Glenn Fawcett/CBP)

Because of the growth of truck, auto and pedestrian traffic at Otay Mesa, the staging areas and circulation capacity are inadequate. The LPOE is no longer able to keep pace with commercial needs. More specifically, the over-capacity level of activity at Otay Mesa has caused excessive vehicle queueing. According to the GSA, the average processing and wait time for commercial freight crossings at Otay Mesa is between 1.5 and 2 hours, with 10% of commercial traffic waiting as long as four hours.

These wait times are anticipated to increase according to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Border delays in freight movement can result in increased transportation costs and interruptions in manufacturing and delivery cycles. With border processing times averaging more than two hours per truck, Caltrans/SANDAG estimated that San Diego County loses approximately $539 million in annual revenue from reduced freight activity. 

Trucks lined up at the Otay Mesa border crossing. (Photo: FreightWaves)

Construction to relieve the congestion

The General Services Administration announced in May 2020 that an expansion project for the Otay Mesa LPOE would begin the following month. The Otay Mesa crossing complex is located along SR 905.   

The $137.2 million modernization project will expand processing capacity for trucks and pedestrians moving between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. In particular, there will be an expanded northbound commercial truck inspection facility, increasing the number of inspection booths from 10 to 16.

Another photo shows a long line of trucks waiting to enter the Otay Mesa LPOE and then cross into Mexico.
(Photo: Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce)

Another aspect of the project will improve the movement of trucks through the facility. In an interview at the time of the announcement, Anthony Kleppe, Region 9 Land Port of Entry program manager for GSA, explained that currently trucks have to make a sharp turn to exit the facility after they’ve been cleared by CBP. He said,  “During peak hours, it gets pretty congested within the port itself. A big part of the project is about increasing the area for circulation and amending the alignment for traffic.”

Kleppe also said, “It’s the largest commercial port of entry in the state of California. It is an important facility. Otay Mesa is an invaluable part of the economy in San Diego, as well as the U.S. as a whole.” The project is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2023.

This photo/map shows completed/current/planned construction around the Otay Mesa LPOE.
(Image: Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce)

Otay Mesa East

The State Route 11 (SR 11)/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project (OME POE) is a joint venture between SANDAG and Caltrans, in collaboration with state and federal partners in the U.S. and Mexico, to create a 21st century border crossing. The goals of the project include enhancing regional mobility, fueling economic growth and binational trade, reducing vehicle wait times and emissions.

Construction is currently underway on the final segment of SR 11, which will be a toll road, and the SR 125/SR 11/SR 905 southbound connector ramps, which are part of the overall SR 11/OME POE project.

According to a report in the San Diego Union on October 13, 2020, the second port of entry in Otay Mesa could begin operations by the end of 2024. The intention is to finish the roadway by the end of 2021 and to begin the construction of the port of entry in 2022. Otay Mesa East (or Otay Mesa II) will be built on a 100-acre piece of property about three miles east of the current Otay Mesa border crossing point. 

A rendering of the new Otay Mesa LPOE (Image: U.S. General Services Administration)

Construction on the various road projects has been underway on the U.S. side since 2013.  Mexican President Obrador’s recent national infrastructure plan included $132 million for construction of a second border crossing on the Mexican side of Otay Mesa. Mexico’s consul general in San Diego, Carlos González Gutiérrez, said, “The fact that it is one of the priorities in infrastructure shows the importance given to Otay II as a facilitator of our exports and of the economic integration between Mexico and the United States in general.” 

Unlike other ports of entry between California and Mexico, Otay Mesa II will require a toll that will guarantee a specific waiting time to cross the border. The amount of the toll will vary depending on demand. The toll fees will be distributed between the U.S. and Mexico. 

It is hoped that the new border crossing will help reduce waiting times by up to 50% at the current ports of entry, authorities anticipate.

Another map of the Otay Mesa East project. (Image: San Diego Chamber of Commerce)

Author’s note: FreightWaves reporter Noi Mahoney has written numerous articles about the Otay Mesa LPOE. The articles are available on the FreightWaves website.