Article by: Karen Pearlman
June 20, 2022
San Diego Business Journal
A new, privately owned screening facility recently opened at the General Abelardo L. Rodriguez Airport (also known as the Tijuana International Airport) has major crossborder significance, local leaders say.
The $100 million, 430,000-square-foot passenger processing facility using the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) bridge will reduce Cross Border Xpress' passenger wait times, improve the travel experience and increase screening capacity by 75 percent.
The new site includes 14 immigration booths and three times the queuing capacity, 18 customs review lines with new technology, 52 airline check-in counters and two new boarding gates.
“The expansion definitely gives us more opportunities for international visitors to come to San Diego,” said San Diego Tourism Authority President and CEO Julie Coker. “The reality of the situation is our San Diego airport has the one runway… we’re really constricted by land. The way we view the CBX expansion is that it is going to open up additional routes for people.”
CBX, which opened six years ago, is a direct, secure border crossing along a 390-foot bridge between San Diego and the Tijuana airport.
It is designed and operated consistent with U.S. and international security standards, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations located within the CBX facility in the U. S., and Mexican Immigration and Customs located at the Tijuana airport.
In May, local and national leaders from San Diego County and Mexico met at the Tijuana airport to celebrate the grand opening of the facility that they say will dramatically expedite passengers’ transit process from the U.S. to Mexico.
“Since 2015, CBX has taken an innovative approach to a faster and more efficient connection of the United States with the Tijuana International Airport while providing passengers with exceptional customer service,” said Jorge Goytortua, CEO of Cross Border Xpress.
Goytortua said that the new state-of-the-art passenger processing facility “is the latest milestone as part of a multimillion-dollar expansion that will shorten our guests’ wait times, improve their travel experience, and help raise the profile of our binational region across the globe.”
Only for Travelers with Tickets to Fly
The CBX site is for ticketed airline passengers only, offering travelers who are flying out of Mexico an alternative to accessing the airport. Officials say the wait time to cross is far shorter than it is at more congested land ports of entry at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa.
By choosing to fly through the Tijuana airport and crossing via CBX to connect to San Diego, passengers are able to enjoy international travel experiences at domestic flight rates.
The savings can range from 30% to 50% compared to other airports in Southern California, CBX officials say.
The building expansion was funded by Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, operator of 12 airports in Mexico.
Raul Revuelta, CEO of Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, said the investment is not only a benefit to passengers. “This investment(‘s) positive impact will be experienced throughout the entire Cali-Baja Megaregion and beyond,” Revuelta said. “Today, more than 75% of non-stop international air travelers that come to San Diego arrive through Tijuana - Cross Border Xpress. Our new facility will make crossing through the airport easier and will elevate the experience for all travelers using the sky bridge.”
Revuelta said his group is confident that new international service will be added to the region in the coming years.
San Diego Association of Governments CEO Hasan Ikhrata said the region depends on one another, and that will continue moving forward.
“Tijuana, Baja California and the San Diego region cannot survive without each other economically speaking,” Ikhrata said.
Five Big Moves
CBX and the improvements at the site also align with Ikhrata’s “Five Big Moves,” a plan he has been pushing since 2019.
Its overall concept is to connect major destinations and employment centers with where people live through technological advances latching onto current and future infrastructure.
The Five Big Moves vision includes the “Next Operating System,” which Ikhrata likens to a transportation “brain” that will provide an integrated, connected transportation network for maximum efficiency, capacity and speed.
Ikhrata said the Next OS will give commuters choices in their travel and allow the transportation system to react in real time.
Five Big Moves also builds upon existing infrastructure and strategies — Complete Corridors, Flexible Fleets, Transit Leap and Mobility Hubs — which will operate in an interdependent fashion.
Ikhrata said that connecting the San Diego-Tijuana region with high-speed rail, and specifically connecting the San Diego Airport to the Tijuana airport, would be “moving in the right direction.”
“About 150,000 people cross the border every day and work here and live there, or vice versa,” Ikhrata said.
San Diego Trolley’s Purple Line in the Pipeline
He said there has been talk between SANDAG officials and Mexico officials about reserving plans for a subway station. A proposed San Diego Trolley Purple Line is slated to go from the San Ysidro Transit Center to National City and Chula Vista and into downtown San Diego.
“More collaboration is good news for our binational region,” Ikhrata said. “The two cities, San Diego and Tijuana, and the regions, are one. Mexico has become our largest trading partner, which points to more collaboration and more exciting moments for future transportation.”
According to CBX officials, in 2019, CBX generated a total economic impact of $855 million throughout the region and supported 7,613 full-time jobs.
In 2021, CBX had more than 2.7 million travelers and expects to reach 4 million this year. By 2034, it is estimated that more than 17 million passengers will transfer through Tijuana.
“The long-term goal for Tijuana International Airport is to pursue international flights, and that, too, will be good for San Diego,” Coker said. “I do see them as a partner, complementing the travel experience in San Diego. We promote ourselves as binational, a two-nation vacation. People can spend a couple of nights in Tijuana or the Baja California region and then spend three or four nights in San Diego, experiencing two countries in one visit.”
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