Citizen Staff Writer
The Lukeville Port of Entry turned into a traffic jam Sunday that stretched for miles as Rocky Point visitors waited up to six and half hours to cross back into the United States.
Leslie Pearl said she and her boyfriend left Rocky Point at 1:30 Sunday afternoon and figured they’d have enough time to get to a 7 p.m. wedding in Tucson. They ended up crossing the border a little before 9 p.m. and missed the wedding.
Normal driving time between the two cities is just more than four hours when there is little to no wait at the border crossing.
“I could have skipped backward and made it faster,” said Pearl, 49, who owns a Tucson advertising firm.
To pass the time, drivers broke into their coolers and started drinking, Pearl said. Others drove erratically, trying to cut ahead of traffic. Children cried in the heat, and Sonoyta residents along the road made extra cash charging desperate travelers to use portable toilets in their front yards, she said.
By several accounts, Sunday’s wait was extreme, but travelers can expect to wait from two to three hours on a typical Sunday afternoon, starting in March during college spring break and lasting through the summer, said Sostenes Picos, who manages the duty-free shop in Lukeville.
Checkout time at most condos and hotels in Rocky Point is noon, and the waits are caused by thousands of vacationers descending upon the highway at the same time, said Norm Nelson, a retiree who lives in Rocky Point full time but regularly drives to Tucson. So many people attempt to avoid the crunch by extending their weekends that the long waits have spilled over into Monday afternoon, he said. Nelson avoids the rush by traveling during off times and suggests that weekend travelers leave Rocky Point early Sunday.
Felipe Garcia of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau waited in line Sunday with his wife and two small children for five hours.
Long waits don’t bode well for the economy and may discourage Mexican tourists, who spend a million dollars a day in Tucson, Garcia said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Brian Levin said the Lukeville Port of Entry is not designed to handle the amount of traffic that goes through now and that the agency is negotiating with Arizona officials about adding two more lanes.
The number of cars passing through Lukeville the past six years has actually decreased from a high of 443,000 in 2001 to 393,000 in 2006, but security measures have been increased, causing longer wait times, Levin said.
“The threat we’re facing is not the same as before 9/11,” Levin said.