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Sam Zell's Bridge To Somewhere

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jan 23, 2014 4:35PM

(San Diego International Airport/Facebook)

If you've ever done even a moderate amount of flying in and out of Chicago, you know that there are key differences between your experience at Midway and at O'Hare. One is larger, busier, can be harder to navigate during peak flight hours. O'Hare can offer more choices in flight selection, and therefore better fares, while Midway can be a breeze to get in and out of, even during peak flight times. But you never have to leave Chicago to take advantage of either airport. Now imagine having to leave not only Chicago, but the United States to get a cheaper flight or more options at a larger airport. Then you can understand what it's like to try to fly out of San Diego's one-runway Lindbergh Field. It's precisely what some 2.4 million travelers do annually: cross from San Diego into Tijuana, Mexico for cheaper fares and more flight options, even if that means standing in line at the border for hours.

Of the many things that were promised with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), easier access across borders to goods and services was one of the promises made. Yet ease of border crossing has been elusive. Chicago real estate kingpin Sam Zell (who, yes, used to own the Tribune back when) has a plan to change that, according to a report in the New York Times. If the project stays on track, in 2015 travelers could cross the border from California into Mexico via a 300+ foot pedestrian bridge. Earlier proposals have included a plan to transform Tijuana International Airport into a cross-border airport with runways on both sides of the border and both Mexican and American air traffic controllers. That plan fizzled when the US government balked at the idea. Zell's bridge, which is privately financed by a partnership between Zell's Equity Group Investments, and two Mexican investment companies with ties to Grupo Aeroportuario del PacĂ­fico, a public-private partnership that operates 12 airports in Mexico including Tijuana, is the most ambitious non-government plan so far to address border access.

If everything goes according to plan, when the pedestrian bridge opens next year travelers will have access to parking in San Diego and departures and arrivals in Tijuana. The pedestrain bridge to Tijuana airport will function like any other border crossing between the US and Mexico, with the exception that you must have a plane ticket to access it. The cost of staffing the border stations will be borne by the operators of the bridge. Although fees to use the bridge, which are expected to cost between $13 and $17USD per person, will be a primary source of revenue. “This makes sense on a lot of levels,” Chandler Martin, the director of trade, border and community programs at the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego told the Times. “All that time spent waiting to cross is business forgone. If the border works efficiently, it helps both sides.”