Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Cross Border Xpress

Tijuana’s airport is unique.  Located only feet from the U.S. border, its runway parallels the border itself. At one time there was hope of creating a bi-national international airport complex on this ideal site.  That dream died in the early 1990’s. 

For decades Carlos Laviada, a prominent Mexican businessman, made frequent trips to California.  One day in 2005 he looked out of the Tijuana airport control tower and noticed the land on the U.S. side of the border was still undeveloped.  With long-term vision and lots of optimism he bought 55 acres, formed an investment consortium, and began to plan for a direct border-crossing from Tijuana’s airport to the United States.

This year Christmas came early for Charlie’s Digs’ collaborator Carol Hopkins and her dog Amigo.  Last Wednesday they were among the first southbound beneficiaries of Laviada’s vision.

Carol regularly commutes from San Diego to Cuernavaca.  She almost always uses the Tijuana airport.  “Fares are more competitive and make the difficulties of crossing the world’s busiest border worth the effort.

“It was particularly easy when there were flights from Tijuana directly to Cuernavaca.  Aeromexico had that route for several years.  I could leave my home in San Diego, cross the border, catch a plane and be in Cuernavaca in less than six hours.  I don’t know why there is no longer a domestic carrier at Cuernavaca’s airport.  Flights were always full and the terminal itself was recently remodeled.”

Some years ago Carol heard rumors there would be a new bridge from the San Diego side of the border directly into Tijuana’s terminal.  Rumors became stronger; three years ago she was delighted to see the beginnings of construction. 

“I guess I really didn’t believe it would actually happen.  Whatever I thought, I still wasn’t prepared for the reality of Cross Border Express (CBX) -- the grand new airport facility that opened December 9.”

The 390’ (120 meters) bridge crosses the border and six-lane Via de la Juventud Highway in Tijuana. The skybridge was pre-fabricated in six 75-ton sections which were crane-lifted into place.  Once the last section was lowered into position workers on both sides of the border opened the door and were able to greet and congratulate one another.

Talking about an airport so close to an international border, Architect of Record Stanis Smith said, “It’s an amazing accident of geography.  It could never happen again.”

CBX is an architectural masterpiece and the last design of award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta (1931-2011).  Although Legoretta didn’t live to see the finished project, his stamp on the design and lighting and his use of color -- particularly purple -- is a feast for the eyes.

With Legoretta’s plans in hand, Carlos Laviada, against odds, succeeded in getting all the necessary permits and made this masterpiece a reality.

On December 7, Carol enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility escorted by Stephanie Sathoff, spokesperson for CBX as well as Jacqueline Wasiluk, and Angelica De Cima from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“We’re as excited about this as you are,” emoted the two security officials.  “Don’t think we enjoy keeping people waiting for hours at the border.  We believe this crossing will alleviate some of the pressure on us and be good for business on both sides of the border while maintaining security.”

“Although elements of CBX are present in some other airports, we believe this international bridge crossing terminal is unique in the entire world,” said Sathoff.

Elizabeth Brown, CBX’s Chief Commercial Officer, told Carol, “The U.S. is the destination for approximately 2.6 million passengers flying into Tijuana each year.  We can facilitate their travel.  Tijuana’s airport has direct flights to 34 Mexican destinations, a thrice weekly direct flight to Shanghai and the capacity for many more international routes.”

Passengers using CBX’s bridge undergo exactly the same security screening as they would at any U.S./Mexico border crossing.  To use the bridge one must have a confirmed, ticketed flight.

There must have been many compromises along the way.  CBX will affect Tijuana cabdrivers and could encourage travelers to choose Tijuana’s airport instead of San Diego’s over-crowded Lindbergh Field.

Traveling southbound, you can use the CBX 24 hours before flight time.  This allows passengers to cross the bridge and spend the night at a hotel or just go to one of Tijuana’s many new exciting restaurants before catching a flight.  Northbound the bridge is only open to you for 2 hours after landing.

In time CBX plans to open its own hotel on the U.S. side of the border.  The hotel, parking, and yet to be opened duty free shops and car rentals will provide CBX’s profit.  Bridge crossing fees, US$18 with a 20% discount for seniors, will pay the salaries of U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration Officers working in partnership with CBX.

Cross Border Xpress is a contribution to the cultural and business life of both San Diego and Tijuana and a tribute to the ability of people of good will to cut through red tape and make things work.

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