Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Evaluation of Travel Time Methods to Support Mobility Performance Monitoring:
Otay Mesa (Page 1 of 3)

Final Site Report

April 2002


Office of Freight Mgt. and Operations
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Washington, DC 20590


Battelle Memorial Institute

Border Crossing Freight Delay Data Collection and Analysis
FY 2001 Data Collection – Otay Mesa Border Crossing

Site Description

The Otay Mesa Port of Entry (POE) connects San Diego, California and vicinity with Tijuana and Western Baja California, Mexico. On the U.S. side, the Otay Mesa crossing connects with State Route 905 (Otay Mesa Road), providing links to I-805 and I-5. The commercial traffic crossing the border at Otay Mesa includes a mix of agricultural products and supplies and finished products related to the Maquiladora (twin-plant) industry that is continuing to thrive.

An area map of the Otay Mesa Border Crossing between California in the United States and Tijuana in Mexico.
Figure 1. Area Map – Otay Mesa Border Crossing

Data collection activities at the Otay Mesa crossing occurred during July 17-19, 2001. Truck travel times across the bridge in both directions were recorded on Tuesday through Thursday each week, for the entire period during which the commercial crossing was open.

A satellite photo of the Otay Mesa Customs Plazas, showing U.S. primary and secondary inspections areas, U.S. exports area, U.S. inbound station IB-2, U.S. outbound station OB-1, Mexican primary inspections area, Mexican exports area, Mexican empties area, Mexican inbound station IB-1, and Mexican outbound station OB-2.
Figure 2. Otay Mesa Customs Plazas

Northbound (inbound) traffic heading to the U.S. travels westbound along Avenida Internacional, parallel to the border, as it approaches the Mexican Customs export compound. Once at the export compound, empty vehicles stay to the right while loaded vehicles loop around the secondary inspection facility to the left and pass through the primary export inspection. A small percentage of vehicles are sent back to the secondary export inspection. Only empty vehicles are processed from 6 am through 8 am during the week; all vehicles are processed from 8 am to 5:30 pm, while loaded vehicles are given priority; and from 6 until 8 pm, only empty vehicles are again processed.

When vehicles cross the border into the U.S., they then pass through the primary U.S. Customs inspection (see Figure 3). The two far right booths (as the trucks approach – to the left in Figure 3) are used to process both empties as well as certain pre-cleared vehicles. Up to five additional booths were used to process incoming vehicles. Trucks are then either released or sent to secondary inspection, which can include agricultural, immigration, as well as Customs inspection. In many cases, trucks are sent to secondary to complete the required brokerage paperwork and not for a physical inspection. Periodically, trucks leaving primary are detained in an area in front of the inspection booths in several lanes. Drug enforcement officers will move their dogs in and around the stopped trucks and then direct each lane to the exit or to secondary for additional inspection. After being cleared through the exit booths, all trucks pass through the state commercial vehicle enforcement facility. The California Highway Patrol maintains this facility but it also houses additional state inspection agencies.

A photo of U.S. Customs primary inspection booths, showing trucks exiting tollbooths.
Figure 3. U.S. Customs Primary Inspection Booths

Southbound (outbound) vehicles head south on La Media road toward the border where they make a left turn and travel adjacent to the border until they reach the U.S. Customs export facility. Certain vehicles, including tankers that need to be weighed, enter the export facility while others turn right and head directly through the U.S. export booths and into Mexico. On the Mexican side, they travel through the primary inspection booths (see Figure 4), where they are either cleared for release or sent to secondary inspection. Hours of operation for the Mexican commercial import facility are from 9 am to 5 pm. In-bond vehicles first visit a special, segregated area for processing before they pass through the primary Mexican Customs inspection booths. They may remain in the in-bond area for hours, days, or occasionally, even weeks.

A photo of Mexican Customs primary inspection booths, showing trucks in the tollbooths.
Figure 4. Mexican Customs Primary Inspection Booths

Data Collection Process

For this study, two data collection locations were used in each direction. The "number 1" location was at a point upstream from the first point where trucks might experience delay in approaching the border and the "number 2" location was immediately after the primary inspection booths. For consistency among all border crossings visited as part of the overall project, the data collection positions were distinguished by the direction of travel that they were measuring (outbound or inbound). Southbound movement from the U.S. into Mexico was referred to as outbound. Conversely, inbound was used to refer to northbound movement from Mexico to the U.S. The Outbound 1 (OB-1) position was at the intersection of Siempra Vivra and La Media Road and is approximately 1.5 miles from the crossing point (see Figure 5). The Outbound 2 (OB-2) position was after the primary Mexican Customs booths. The Inbound 1 (IB-1) position was where Avenida Internacional becomes a one-way, four-lane road toward the Mexican export compound (see Figure 6) and the Inbound 2 (IB-2) position was after the primary U.S. Customs booths. IB-1 is approximately 1.75 miles from the crossing point. IB-2 and OB-2 are shown in Figure 2.

A photo of the OB-1 data collection location, facing south toward the Mexican border. Information signs are shown on both sides of the entrance.
Figure 5. OB-1 Location, Facing South Toward the Mexican Border

A photo of the IB-1 data collection location, facing west toward the Mexican export compound, with inspection vehicles in the foreground.
Figure 6. IB-1 Location, Facing West Toward the Mexican Export Compound

Each data collector would use a handheld computer to record partial license plate information of all commercial vehicles that passed their location. The computer would also store the time that each license plate was entered. The data from the two locations in each direction would be combined, allowing the determination of the travel time for each vehicle that was recorded at both locations.

For the data collection, the on-site team included four data collectors and one supervisor. Table 1 shows the data collection hours for each day during the two site visits. Each data collector actually worked about 12 hours, the supervisor could collect data during their 30-minute meal break during the day. However, the differing hours of operation for the two compounds allowed the outbound collectors to relieve the inbound collectors after the outbound facilities closed each day. Data collection in the inbound direction on the third and last day was halted around 3:00 pm . This is discussed later in this report.

Table 1. Hours of Data Collection
Date Start End
Outboundempty cellempty cell
7/17/01 9:00 am 5:00 pm
7/18/01 9:00 am 5:00 pm
7/19/01 9:00 am 5:00 pm
Inboundempty cellempty cell
7/17/01 6:00 am 8:00 pm
7/18/01 6:00 am 8:00 pm
7/19/01 6:00 am 3:00 pm

While an extremely smooth process, it took considerable time to schedule and arrange the initial site visits to coordinate the data collection activities. The first meeting involved staff from Caltrans, where a similar data collection activity was discussed. A border liaison for Caltrans, Mr. Jose Ornelas, was instrumental in helping to coordinate two meetings with the U.S. and Mexican Customs officials, respectively, and additional follow ups.

It was determined that we would need to obtain GSA visitor passes for access to the U.S. compound and Mexican Customs visitor passes for access to the Mexican compound when we arrived for the data collection. We were assured that no additional authorization was required for the collectors who would be in Mexico from the senior Mexican Customs official; however, this was not the case, as will be explained later in this document.

The Caltrans Border Liaison assured that the regional U.S. Customs Management Center (CMC) was notified of our study and approved of it. He also arranged with the San Diego police department for permission to perform data collection at the IB-1 location and at a potential backup location at SR-905 should the queue of trucks back up past the initial location.

Table 2 contains a list of the individuals who were contacted and their telephone and e-mail information. Several individuals in Mexico who were not contacted for this study but who, it was learned, should be contacted for future collections are marked with an asterisk. However, any new project would require additional time to explain the data collection objectives to the involved parties and gain their approval. Also, Mr. Blackburn, the primary U.S. Customs contact, has since been promoted and is no longer at Otay Mesa.

Table 2. Agency Contacts
Contact Agency Phone/Fax E-mail
Jose Ornelas
Border Liaison
Caltrans 619-557-5360 ext.183
619-557-6188 (fax)
Stephen Blackburn
Supervisory Inspector
U.S. Customs 619-671-8934
619-661-8115 (fax)
Tom Carson GSA 619-661-3238
619-661-3099 (fax)
Lic. Julio Lamas Lamas Gracia
Subadministrador de Operacion Aduanera
Aduana de Tijuana
(Mexican Customs)
+52 624 22 00 empty cell
Antonia Rivera*
Secretaria Gobernador
Immigration Dept.
+66 83+61+01 empty cell
Ramon Madrigal* Auth. Federal Vehicolos Legals, Tijuana empty cell empty cell

*Note: Should be contacted for future collection activities.

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