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Starting Strong: Completing Phase One of the Otay Mesa LPOE Expansion & Modernization

The Otay Mesa Land Port of Entry (LPOE) in San Diego, CA, is the busiest commercial port in the state and the second busiest on the U.S.-Mexico border. For some sense of scope: Otay Mesa LPOE processes 1 million trucks, 6.9 million vehicles, and 3.6 million pedestrians annually. That’s more than 2,700 trucks, 18,900 vehicles, and 9,800 people per day—and those numbers will only continue to rise. In terms of economic impact, $18 billion of exports and $34 billion of imports are estimated to have been processed at LPOE in 2021. Originally constructed in 1983, the Otay Mesa LPOE requires expansion and modernization to accommodate increasing commercial and pedestrian traffic. To this end, GSA acquired an undeveloped 9.9 acre lot east of the existing facility and is undertaking the Otay Mesa LPOE Expansion and Modernization. Hill International is providing construction management services for the project.

To maintain operations during construction, the LPOE Expansion and Modernization is being delivered in phases. Phase 1 of the $144 million, Design-Build (DB) project involved new facility construction, including a 34,000 SF commercial annex building (CAB) that houses the Unites States Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration, a two-level parking structure, hazardous material processing facilities with docks and containment bays, a 13,000 SF U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Inspection Station (PIS), and a 7,000 SF Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration facility. Phase 1 also included site work on Otay Mesa’s import lot to increase commercial truck capacity and facilitate circulation. This phase was turned over on February 25, 2022. After relocating personnel and operations to the new facilities in Phase 2, the project team will execute Phase 3. This phase will include site work on the commercial import lot and the renovation of three existing facilities: the Commercial Import Building, the Commercial Export Building, and the Main Pedestrian Building. A fourth phase involves the renovation of Otay Mesa’s commercial export lot.

Schedule, Scope, and Security Success

The Hill team supported phase one delivery with project management, design review, construction inspection and safety peer review, complete project commissioning, contract administration, cost estimating, and BIM management. “Some of our biggest contributions came during COVID-19,” adds Luis Espinosa, Hill Senior Director of Projects. “The pandemic caused multiple schedule delays with supply chain shortages and construction staffing issues. The work-around involved lots of weekend and night work, which my team supported by working rotating shifts so there was always CM coverage. My team also provided strong oversight of COVID-19 protocols, creating project policy to assure team safety. These various measures along with GSA and contractor support helped the team maintain a healthy project schedule.”

In addition to support during COVID-19, Hill helped resolve scope challenges. Explains Espinosa: “The Otay Mesa LPOE Expansion and Modernization is a very complex project. We’re building five new buildings, renovating three existing buildings, and expanding commercial truck circulation on an active, heavily secured Federal facility, where five major tenants will be housed. Civilian construction workers must co-exist with Federal agents and the tens of thousands of people passing through the LPOE every day, while meeting tight schedule deadlines and complex set of scope requirements. As the landlord, GSA maintains over-arching scope requirements with facility guidelines and regulations, but each tenant adds to the complexity with their own requirements. A high volume of scope requirements in an aged facility, where existing conditions cannot always be determined until after construction has already commenced, leads to many time-sensitive and challenging decisions.”

To support GSA and the Contactor, Espinosa and the Hill team created detailed checklists as verification tools that the entire project team could use to help keep the scope in compliance with all relevant requirements. If there was ever confusion about the project scope, Espinosa says the project team could quickly reference the checklists to verify compliance. “I think the verification tools were an important part of our success in phase one,” he adds. “GSA embraced the tools, so we’ll use them going forward as well.”

In addition to supporting the scope with verification tools, Hill has enabled construction on the highly secure site by managing security screening for different levels of clearances, badging protocols, and constant supervision.

Well Begun, Half Done

By handing over the project’s first phase, Otay Mesa’s primary tenants—the Unites States Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection, Unites States Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, the Unites States Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—will be able to move into safer and more modern facilities. In addition, the new facilities allow the project team to begin renovation of the three existing facilities and further site work, comprising the next phases of the project.

Well begun may be half done, but the Otay Mesa Expansion and Modernization still has hurdles to clear, according to Espinosa. “There’s going to be ongoing schedule challenges, as we work to get past COVID-19 and its impact on the supply chain,” he says. “In addition to managing the schedule, the Hill team will have to keep working to assure scope compliance and security. That said, there’s definitely reason to be optimistic. The project’s about 14 months out from total completion, some of the hardest work is completed, and we have tools like our scope checklists to help us as we go forward. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far, and we look forward to helping drive this project to completion.”