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Public Safety

San Diego Border Crossing Collapse Snarls Traffic

San Ysidro border crossing
David McNew
San Ysidro border crossing

The morning commute threatened to be unusually long Thursday at the nation's busiest border crossing after all U.S.-bound traffic was halted the previous day because scaffolding had collapsed, falling on more than a dozen cars and injuring 11 travelers and construction workers.

Pedestrian traffic had resumed eight hours later after the accident at the San Ysidro crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and 13 of 24 vehicle lanes reopened at midnight - well before the morning rush.

The pedestrian SENTRI lane is open. Agents have created a SENTRI lane among the lanes currently open and will direct users to the correct area, according to a Customs and Border Protection news release.

Still, about 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians enter the United States each day at the San Ysidro crossing, and officials didn't expect the remaining 11 lanes at the crossing to reopen Thursday.

A section of scaffold installed to protect cars from overhead construction collapsed onto eight northbound lanes shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. It left a mangled mess of wooden planks, metal supports and black tarpaulin atop 15 vehicles that had just passed through inspection booths.

Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego fire department, described the aftermath.

“Debris has landed on tops and trunks and the hoods of vehicles. In some cases, jammed up doors, so the doors couldn’t be opened," Luque said. "It isn’t like a complete collapse where everything is just flattened to the ground like a pancake.”

Seven border crossers and four construction workers were injured. The construction worker remains in serious condition. The other injuries were considered minor.

Luque said investigators are still searching for the cause.

“The construction people, along with federal structural engineers, are looking at the collapse area right now and determining what needs to be done next and have the ability to open up some lanes to allow traffic back into the United States from Mexico,” he said.

U.S.-bound motorists and pedestrians were directed to San Diego's Otay Mesa border crossing about five miles east.

The General Services Administration, which owns the ports of entry, was assessing the integrity of the remaining scaffold before deciding when San Ysidro's remaining vehicle lanes would reopen.

Waiting times to enter the U.S. at Otay Mesa on Wednesday afternoon reached about 2 1/2 hours for motorists and two hours for pedestrians, about twice the normal delay, Jaramillo said.

The San Ysidro border crossing facility is undergoing a $577 million overhaul by Hensel Phelps Construction Co., based in Greeley, Colo.

Randy Barr, an operations manager for the company, said that at the time the scaffolding collapsed, workers were removing plaster from the port of entry's administration building that will be demolished.