Bridge planned to link San Diego with Tijuana airport

Development is underway for a border-crossing pedestrian bridge linking San Diego and the Tijuana airport, a plan that could potentially alter the landscape of travel options in the busy binational region.

Equity Group Investments, a major private company headed by billionaire investor Sam Zell (who took Tribune Company, the parent of the Los Angeles Times, private), recently acquired key federal approval to develop the plan. With a U.S. State Department's Presidential Permit, the company has the go-ahead to seek approvals for the project from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and from the city of San Diego.

Cost for the bridge is estimated at $77.9 million. The for-profit venture would include private Tijuana investors with ties to the Pacific regional airport authority in Mexico, Equity executives said. "There's just been overwhelming support for the project," Terry Holt, a company official, told La Plaza. "Usually you'd expect some kind of concerns."

The Rodriguez International Airport sits on the Tijuana side of Otay Mesa, just across the street from the U.S.-Mexico border fence in a flat and sparsely developed area of southeast San Diego. The planned 525-foot pedestrian bridge would go over the border fence and into a U.S. customs building on the San Diego side of Otay Mesa, about 1 mile from the 905 highway.

There probably would be a toll to use the bridge, but the fee has not been set, Holt said. The facility could open as soon as 2012.

U.S. travelers have been using the Tijuana airport for years for flights into Mexico and connections to other Latin American destinations, seeking lower fares and the ease of access to Tijuana's terminal compared to the relatively congested San Diego airport, which is squeezed in by the city's dense harbor and downtown. San Diego's airport also has restrictions on overnight departures for noise control.

Tijuana's airport, however, has room to grow. The Mexican airline AeroMexico has inaugurated direct flights from Tijuana to Tokyo and Shanghai, building significant new links between Mexico and East Asia. U.S. travelers heading to or from Tijuana's airport currently cross the border with regular traffic at either the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa international crossings.

San Diego's Regional Airport Authority has no direct relationship with the current cross-border terminal plan, but has long identified a growing demand for access to the Tijuana airport among U.S. travelers, said spokesman Steve Schultz.

According a feasibility study on such a project, as many as 2 million U.S. travelers are expected to use the Tijuana airport annually by 2020, even without a pedestrian bridge into San Diego. Such travelers are not limited to San Diegans, the study found. U.S. passengers head to Tijuana's airport from as far away as Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Imperial counties.
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