San Diego's airport has been too small for almost a hundred years—the city made its first plans for a replacement back in 1923. Now, after decades of failed expansion plans, private investors are slated to begin construction on their own solution: Build a pedestrian bridge to the nearest airport... in Mexico. The market finds a way!
The San Diego-Tijuana Airport Cross Border Facility, or CBF, will institutionalize something that frustrated travelers have been doing for years—that is, driving across the border to Tijuana, where tickets and parking are plentiful.
Here's how it will work: Passengers on the U.S. side of the CBF would pay a roughly $13-$17 fee to cross a 500-foot-long pedestrian bridge that arcs over the Mexico/U.S. border, depositing them inside the Tijuana airport. Likewise, passengers flying into Tijuana will be able to walk directly onto U.S. soil.
Who is paying for this 24-acre, $50 million project? A consortium of investors (including Sam Zell) led by San Diego's South County Economic Development Council.
Cindy Gompper-Graves, the CEO of the council, spoke to Gizmodo about the project last week. "We're finally realizing something that we've known was a solution to a bi-national challenge for over a decade," she explained. Gompper-Graves describes the CBF bridge as, at the most basic level, "a hole in the border."
In essence, it's a fast-tracked border crossing that will be staffed much like any other U.S. border crossing: By U.S. customs officers on the San Diego side and Mexican officers on the Tijuana side.
It's a port of entry designed not only for the convenience of passengers, but to circumvent the political freeze that's paralyzed San Diego and affected the city's economy for decades. "When you have such easy access to an international airport, and over 2,000 acres of raw industrial land waiting, this will help us very much in getting major investors to look toward putting their companies in South San Diego," Gomper-Graves added.
At this point, after clinching U.S. presidential approval and with Mexican approval shortly to follow, the project is simply waiting for full financing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A U.S. border patrol car drives along the fence that edges the Tijuana Airport. Image: Gregory Bull/AP.
Where local government has failed to built a suitable airport, private investors are stepping in—and over—national borders.
Journalist Greg Lindsay, whose book Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, examines the emerging phenomenon of airports that spur the construction of entire new cities (eg, the Aerotropolis), told Gizmodo that the CBF is sign of things to come. "Now, because of sheer political intractability in San Diego, we've reached a point where we're saying yes to private interests wanting to build a footbridge across the border and develop land use," Lindsay said over the phone last week.
"It's kind of ingenious. The only thing comparable is in the Pearl River Delta," he added, referring to a cross-border transit link between Hong Kong International Airport and Shenzhen International Airport that opened in 2008.
The overwhelmed San Diego airport. Image via.
It's a scenario that's destined to become more and more common as these Aerotropoli sprout up in more and more places.
For example, 30 miles outside of Beijing, the city is planning a new international airport in what is now a rural community. The future Beijing Daxing International Airport will eventually out-size both Heathrow and JFK, spurring the construction of new transit links, residential neighborhoods, and commercial real estate. Similar tabula rasa-style projects are being planned in the Middle East, where air travel is also booming.
In this near future, cities don't build new airports—airports build new cities.