February 16, 2007

Proposed crossborder airport terminal could ease congestion at Lindbergh Field

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Chula Vista resident Ernesto Cota has never set foot on Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s international airport.

Instead, Cota, like an estimated 350,000 San Diego residents each year, crosses the border to catch a plane in Tijuana’s Rodriguez International Airport.

“They don’t have flights to Culiacán in San Diego,” said the native of the Northern Mexican state of Sinaloa. “There’s no other way for me to get there, except through the Tijuana airport.”

A proposed crossborder terminal that would connect Otay Mesa on the U.S. side with Tijuana’s airport is being considered by The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which earlier this month authorized a market demand study of the crossborder terminal.

The logic being used is that, with more than 17.5 million passengers each year, Lindbergh Field will reach its full capacity in the next seven years, said Keith Wilschetz, director of airport systems planning. If more San Diegans use Tijuana’s Rodriguez field’s services, it would ease the overcrowding at Lindbergh, he said.

Although many San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board members support the idea of the crossborder terminal, a consulting firm that was hired announced earlier this year that there are “some major political and legal issues this project would face,” Keith said.

Some of those issues include getting permission from federal agencies to open a third official border crossing in Otay Mesa.

“That’s a lengthy process. It can take, at least, 10 years,” Keith said.

That time-frame isn’t stopping the South County Economic Development Council, a non-profit organization that promotes development and investment in the South Bay, from continue to lobby for a crossborder terminal. The SCEDC has been a major supporter of the idea for the past decade.

Some of its board members said that the crossborder terminal would boost the local economy, and, at the same time, make it easier for South County residents to catch a plane.

There are several international flights offered in Tijuana, that are not offered at Lindbergh, such as the direct flight to Japan, said Cinty Gompper-Graves, chief executive officer of the SCEDC.

“We have a strong commitment to this project,” she said.

Tijuana’s airport is located in Mesa de Otay, just a few feet from the border. There are several proposals on how to design the crossborder terminal. One of them calls for a pedestrial bridge from a parking lot in Otay Mesa. Another proposes a terminal on the U.S. side with all the ticket, check-in, and baggage services.

Keith made it clear that the San Diego County Regionl Airport Authority will not invest any more money in this project until it receives confirmation from Mexican federal officials that they support the idea. Keith said the Airport Authority is meeting with representatives from the Mexican Consulate in San Diego to “open the dialogue.”

“Our board members are interested in seeing if this is a good idea, but they need to see an interest and support from Mexican federal officials as well,” he said.

Local Tijuana officials, such as Mayor Jorge Hank, have shown their support for the crossborder terminal. But local and state officials depend on what, ultimately, officials in Mexico City agree to.

Keith said that he has been meeting with Enrique Valle, director of the private company that operates the Tijuana airport. Keith said Valle has shown an interest in the project and that Valle said Tijuana could handle an increase in the number of passengers from San Diego.

For Gompper-Graves, a crossborder terminal would increase the cooperation between San Diego and Tijuana. It would also create major ties between the two cities, strengthening binational economic and cultural relations.

“We see San Diego and Tijuana as one region that needs to support each other, no matter how many barriers they put between us. We’re one region, we can’t deny that,” she said.

She added that the crossborder terminal would ease traffic congestion in the South Bay, as well as reduce the waiting times in the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa port of entries.

When Cota heard of the proposed terminal, he said he would take advantage of it –if one day it becomes a reality.

“It would catch my plane faster,” he said.

To learn more about the crossborder terminal project, visit the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s webpage at www.san.org, or the South County Economic Development Council at www.sandiegosouth.com.

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