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The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry was finalized in November 2019 after almost 10 full years of design and construction in three phases.

Photo: Michael Dikter

Design and Process Unite Countries and Project Teammates

Photo: Michael Dikter

By Mike Bordenaro, contributing editor

The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry was finalized in November 2019 after almost 10 full years of design and construction in three phases. While one might think that the length of the project was due to common federal project tardiness, it was completed on time and on budget, according to the needs of the project manager, the U.S. General Services Administration Public Building Service (GSA PBS).

More than 70,000 cars a day move through the port. More than 85,000 people pass through it daily. And it had to remain open and fully operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for all but a few hours of the 10-year project.

An Intense Process

A major contributor to the success of the project was approval from the GSA PBS for a teaming approach that was more inclusive and far more agile than typical process development and review, according to Rob Misel, a Principal at architect Miller Hull Partnership.

Misel, who was involved with the project from its beginning in 2010, says, “It stands as the most intellectually challenging project I have worked on as a professional. It was also the most intense. It was the most fun. And I think that it demonstrates that large-scale projects can offer a measure of satisfaction when you empower people to take ownership of the process.”

Community Building

The mission of the project was also about community building. “After 10 years, I have a definite affection and a recognition of the fact that socially, culturally and economically San Diego and Tijuana are linked. The face that this project puts on the United States as it looks to Mexico is a very important factor that we considered from day one as architects. And we wanted that face to be welcoming,” Misel says.

The aesthetic of that face is represented in a graceful, curved, 754-foot primary inbound inspection canopy supported, in part, by a series of spires that hold cable stays connected through the roof. The 124-foot tall spires are fitted with colored lights that symbolically serve as a beacon and practically serve as way-finding devices for people in Tijuana coming to the United States. A horizontal LED light panel stretches along the entire face of the canopy covering 35 lanes of traffic. The horizontal light changes and provides a welcoming distraction to those waiting for inspection.

The curve of the canopy helped accommodate the increased number of inbound lanes added to I-5, according to Misel. “We recognized that a curve was actually the most efficient in terms of allowing a vehicle to move from lane to lane in pre-primary inspection lanes on the north side of the border. It also helped in terms of moving the line through inspection, because once you cross the border, the options open up a bit because of the curve,” Misel said.

Practically, the inbound canopy covers two inspection booths in almost all of the 35 lanes of incoming traffic. By doubling the booths in most lanes, Miller Hull devised the means to meet the programmatic goal of welcoming people coming into the United States by reducing wait times. Previously, it took 2 hours to be processed through. With the new configuration, wait times are at 30 minutes and are projected to remain at the level until 2030.

Enough conservation methods were deployed at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry to prepare for earning LEED Platinum status and contribute to the facility to be heralded as the “Port of the Future” that can be sustainable for 50 years, ultimately handling as many as 100,000 visitors a day.

Measures of Success

While there are many measures of success for the project, Misel has a favorite anecdote that may be better than any measurement.

Every year, Mill Hull has a Year End Show of all their current project. The company brings in three local, national or international dignitaries to review the boards to make comments, identify trends, and offer advice on how the projects and the firm can pursue continuous improvement.

“A couple years ago, a gentleman by the name of Jorge Gracias who is an architect and teacher at school of architecture in Tijuana called the Free School of Architecture was one of the jurors,” Misel says. “Jorge said that the people in Tijuana look at this as their project.  They are extremely proud of it and they feel that it was designed with them in mind. It was extremely gratifying to hear that from someone who is a resident of Tijuana because that is exactly what we wanted people to feel.”

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