Lukeville will ease re-entry from Mexico

By Gabriela Rico and Brady McCombs

Travelers returning from Mexico through the Lukeville Port of Entry will catch a break starting this weekend.

Every Sunday and Monday, recreational vehicles and those towing trailers will be directed into the commercial lane to help ease the congestion that has plagued the port for years.

Mexican officials will separate and direct traffic before it enters the port, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced Thursday.

A fivefold increase in visitors to Puerto Peñasco since 2001 has created a logjam on Sunday evenings at the port of entry as beach-goers return home.

When the renovated Lukeville port opened in 1976, there was one hotel in Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point.

Today, there are 42 hotels and motels and 14 RV facilities with 6,000 units that attracted approximately 2.3 million people in 2006, a 15 percent increase from the year before and a nearly fivefold increase from 2001, said Epifanio Salido Pavlovich, director of the Sonora Office of Tourism.

The port — with its three passenger lanes and one commercial-truck lane — was built to handle 400 vehicles a day, said Brian Levin, a CBP spokesman. This past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Lukeville port processed 830 on the average weekday and up to 5,000 per day on holiday weekends, he said.

Waits can be one to two hours long on regular Sundays. On holiday weekends, the wait can be six to eight hours.

“We have a dual mission of law enforcement and facilitation at the ports of entry,” David Higgerson, CBP director of field operations, said in a statement, “and while we won’t sacrifice our enforcement operations, we are continually looking at ways of improving our ability to facilitate legitimate international travel.”

CBP and its Mexican counterparts devised the pilot program for peak travel days, which typically occur between noon and 7 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays, Levin said. The port is open from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

A new airport in Puerto Peñasco with direct flights from Tucson and other cities is set to open by the spring of 2009, Salido said.

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