The busiest border crossing in the world will close this weekend to the more than 40,000 cars that pass between California and Mexico every day.
The closure between San Diego and Tijuana for work on a $741 million expansion project presents a monumental headache for border businesses, workers, tourists and Christopher Enjambre. His band, Minor Gems, plays gigs in Tijuana.
“It’s already hectic now, so ... damn,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s going to be crazy.”
Travellers have been enduring hours-long waits on the Mexican side of the border to enter the US with the constant addition of security measures since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Frequent crossers, like Enjambre, 28, of Chula Vista, south of downtown San Diego, worry they will now face long lines on both sides, making trips through the San Ysidro crossing intolerable.
The expansion is believed to be the largest renovation of a crossing along the nearly 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border. It has been in the works for years to ease congestion and boost cross-border commerce.
US officials are warning people to avoid driving to Baja California from the early hours of today until noon on Monday, hoping to ease what is feared will be a massive traffic jam on the US side as Mexico-bound cars are detoured to the much smaller Otay Mesa crossing to the east.
“Don’t even think about going across in a vehicle,” said Jason M-B Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be a standstill.”
Wells and other business leaders want people to cross on foot and are planning a festival with live music and food trucks to greet those who do. San Ysidro’s pedestrian crossing, where 22 inspection lanes into the US were added this summer, will be open in both directions. Vehicles from Mexico into the US also can cross.
Leaders in Baja California’s tourism industry are concerned about the disruption that could continue well past the weekend as some lanes stay closed until November.
They already were working to get word out that their tourist spots are safe after the US State Department issued a travel advisory last month that included the region because of violent crime.
Ricardo Argiles, chief executive of the Rosarito Beach Group, which owns the landmark Rosarito Beach Hotel, said the border closure is a second blow. Reservations for his hotel this weekend are down 30 per cent from last year at this time, and he fears tourism will keep lagging.