While the last-minute budget deal between President Trump and Congress on Feb. 15 finally secured funding for phase 2 of the Calexico West Port of Entry expansion, uncertainty lingers because not all the requested monies were secured.
The compromise on the 2018-19 federal budget, which also averted another partial government shutdown, funds $191 million of the $276 million cost, according to Imperial County Officials.
A federal official familiar with the project stated in a Feb. 19 email he would have to do some research into updated project details before commenting on how the reduced funding would affect the project and its construction timeline.
Still, local officials are breathing a sigh of relief the project will proceed, albeit a bit pensively.
“This is good news, not only for Calexico but for the entire Imperial Valley. Hopefully, we can have more lanes so that people can cross faster,” Calexico Mayor Lewis Pacheco said.
Calexico City Council Member David Romero said since the government has yet to allocate the remaining funds, the city should do an improvement video and work with county and state officials to let Washington know how vital it is to have the port of entry fully funded for the economic development of the region.
“There is still work to be done and it’s up to us to let them know what things are needed to get it done,” Romero said.
County Supervisor Jesus Escobar, whose district includes Calexico, stated in a county press release he remains cautiously optimistic.
“I am excited that we are in line to receive these much-needed funds toward the project,” he said. “However, with a balance remaining for total completion, I am concerned about how the funds will be allocated within the project scope. The Calexico LPOE will remain a priority for Imperial County and I would encourage all (Imperial) Valley cities and elected officials to continue advocating until this project is completed.”
Phase 1 of the project was completed in September but phase 2 had hung in limbo since being inexplicably axed from the 2017-18 federal budget Trump inked in March 2018.
The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1 but amid chronic partisan rancor in Washington recent budgets have never met that deadline. Instead, the government has kept operating under series of temporary continuing resolutions. Failure to reach a deal by the end of one of those resolutions in December led to the now-infamous 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in history.
That dispute sent the Calexico port funding down with it. Another resolution in late January put off another shutdown until Feb. 15 and Trump and Congress managed to just beat that deadline with the final deal.
Phase 2 of the port project had been scheduled to include additional sitework, demolition of the existing port building, a new pedestrian processing facility, administrative offices, five southbound inspection lanes with canopies and booths, and six additional northbound inspection lanes.
Phase 1 includes five southbound lanes and a southbound bridge over the New River, 10 northbound inspections lanes with primary and secondary inspection canopies, booths and inspection equipment, a new headhouse, and sitework to accommodate those facilities on the sloping site.
The county press release stated the Board of Supervisors is encouraged by the continued support from federal officials to secure the funding, especially Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and Congressman Juan Vargas. They are committed to securing the remaining estimated expense of $85 million for the 2019-20 budget, it stated.
More than 25,000 pedestrians and motorists travel through the Calexico West port daily from Mexico to work, shop, and conduct business in Imperial County, the county added. The improvements will assist in alleviating vehicular and pedestrian congestion and wait times in the downtown Calexico area.
Reporter Mario Conde contributed to this report.