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The Bridge Above The Border: New Pathway Links Tijuana And San Diego


Turning back to the U.S., while some politicians are calling for walls to be built on the U.S.-Mexico border, in California, they just built a bridge. The long-awaited project linking the U.S. with the Tijuana International Airport opened this week. The bridge allows passengers to walk from California to Mexico in less than five minutes. Here's KPBS Fronteras reporter Jean Guerrero.

JEAN GUERRERO, BYLINE: The Cross Border Xpress is a 390-foot long, purple bridge enclosed and suspended just over the U.S.-Mexico border fence. It connects the Tijuana International Airport to a terminal in Otay Mesa in southern San Diego County. Mexican-Americans, tourists and business travelers often use the Tijuana airport when traveling in Mexico because it's cheaper than flying out of San Diego and offers more destinations. The bridge allows people flying into or out of the Tijuana airport to bypass long lines at the regular ports of entry, which can take hours to cross.

CAROL HOPKINS: I fly back and forth almost every month to Mexico because I have a business there - a small hotel. And the hassle of travel has been huge through the years.

GUERRERO: That's San Diego resident Carol Hopkins, one of the first to use the bridge. Usually, Hopkins gets a friend to drop her off at the border, then she walks about half a mile into Mexico and takes a taxi to the Tijuana airport. On the way back, she takes another taxi back to the border, where lines to cross into the U.S. by car can extend all the way to downtown Tijuana. She says it can take hours. She usually opts to walk across instead, but even those lines can stretch for many blocks.

HOPKINS: So that process is pretty difficult if you're carrying a fair amount of luggage, and I usually am. And so this is so much easier.

GUERRERO: Only Tijuana airline passengers with a ticket can use the bridge, which is why they're guaranteed shorter lines. They also pay an $18 bridge fee each way. Twenty-eight-year-old Gibran Fernandez, a Mexican-American, walked across the bridge on his way to a friend's wedding in Mexico City. The San Diego resident has family throughout Mexico, but he rarely visits them because of the inconvenience.

GILBRAN FERNANDEZ: Going and coming gets a little hard at times, but maybe I'll be coming more now, or going more now with this easy access.

GUERRERO: The idea for this bridge has been thrown around since as far back as the 1990s to boost cross-border travel. Both U.S. and Mexican investors negotiated with border authorities on both sides to get it built in accordance with the laws in both countries. It's the first 100-percent privately-funded port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border and pays the salaries for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. Investors hope to capture some of the 2.6 million airport passengers who cross the border each year.

ENRIQUE VALLE: Sixty percent of passengers who are flying into Tijuana airport or flying out of Tijuana airport crosses the border during their trips.

GUERRERO: That's Enrique Valle, CEO of Otay Tijuana Venture, the builder and operator. He says the project was perfect because the Tijuana airport is located right next to the U.S.-Mexico border. The bridge doesn't change how people get into or out of the U.S. in terms of customs. It has the same security measures in place as anywhere else along the border. Joseph Misenhelter, assistant port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, says the process is the same as going through any other pedestrian port of entry.

JOSEPH MISENHELTER: The only extra requirement they're going to have is to actually be a ticketed passenger. Everything else is what you're already used to.

GUERRERO: The U.S. land around the Cross Border Xpress remains barren. And investors plan to build a hotel, a gas station and more around the facility. For NPR News, I'm Jean Guerrero in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jean Guerrero