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How Long Is the Border Traffic Wait? There’ll Soon Be an App for That

Starting this summer, real-time information for northbound and southbound border crossings will be publicly available through a free app — part of a pilot that’s a collaboration between the San Diego Association of Governments and the California Department of Transportation.

Every day, thousands of people in the Mexico border region wake up with the same question: How long is the crossing line to the U.S.?

There will soon be an app to provide an accurate answer.

The project — a collaboration between the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) — is part of a pilot program that started in 2016 to collect information that improves border crossing efficiency.

In its first phase, technology was installed to calculate travel times for vehicles in San Diego headed southbound into Mexico.

In December 2021, with permission from the city of the Tijuana, the same was done at northbound ports of entry in San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. It will also be installed later at the Otay Mesa East border crossing when it opens.

This technology uses a 6-mile stretch of sensors to calculate the time a vehicle takes to get from one sensor to the next.

Beginning this summer, that real-time information for both border crossings will be available to the public through a free app.

The information will also be crucial to the Otay Mesa East project — also known as Otay Mesa II — scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024. Unlike other border crossings, this one will require a toll payment for all drivers to guarantee a 20-minute average crossing time.

The toll fee will vary according to demand, authorities say.

“This is necessary for when Otay Mesa East opens,” said María Rodríguez-Molina, SANDAG project manager. “We need to know the waiting times on all San Diego-Tijuana region crossings to be able to set a toll fee.”

Mario Orso, chief deputy district director with Caltrans, added that this data will allow travelers to make better decisions: from those who need to cross the border as soon as possible to people who can wait for another time of day. “Information is power,” he said.

Southbound traffic data is already available through Caltrans’ QuickMaps system. The southbound system has a 95 percent accuracy, according to SANDAG.

Ongoing testing continues to take place on the readers installed on the Mexican side to verify that the gathered data is accurate.

The plan is for the SANDAG-Caltrans mobile app to gather both northbound and southbound border wait times. In the future, information from the Calexico-Mexicali border crossing will also be added, Orso said.

In 2016, the economic output loss due to border delays at the San Diego County-Baja California border was $1.96 billion, with more than 48,000 jobs lost, according to a 2021 report by SANDAG.

The northbound system’s installation and development was financed with a $1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.