Friday, August 16, 2013

Cross-border facility would benefit airline passengers

Operators of Tijuana's airport say they are getting ready to carry out major upgrades of their international terminal to accomodate a planned cross-border pedestrian border crossing for ticketed airline passengers linking to a processing facility in Otay Mesa. JOHN GIBBINS • U-T
Proponents of a unique privately built crossing that would link Tijuana’s A.L. Rodríguez International Airport with a U.S. Customs processing facility in Otay Mesa are preparing to break ground later this year and aiming for completion in 2014.
Advocates of the long-planned binational project say it will be an important economic engine for the San Diego-Tijuana region. It would allow ticketed passengers who pay a toll to avoid lengthy northbound waits at the congested San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings.
On the Mexican side, the operators of the Tijuana airport said Thursday they are preparing to move ahead next month with the $14.2-million expansion of their terminal in anticipation of a future cross-border bridge that would bring passengers directly from the United States.
On the U.S. side, the project is spearheaded by Otay-Tijuana Ventures LLC, whose investors include Chicago-based billionaire Sam Zell. The private group is the final phase of obtaining permits from the city of San Diego to begin construction of its Otay Mesa customs processing facility and international bridge said chief operating officer Enrique Valle.
Otay-Tijuana Ventures is also in the final stages of negotiations with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over payment of inspectors, Valle said Thursday. The plan is to begin construction in October, he said.
If both sides meet their goals, the cross-border facility could be operating by the end of next year, offering ticketed passengers the chance to use an unusual international border crossing linking the Mexican airport with a 65,000-square-foot building in the United States.
“To have this historic type of project will set us aside from other areas, and I believe this will bode well for both sides of the border,” said Cindy Gompper-Graves, chief executive officer of the South County Economic Development Council.
“This is a net positive overall, helping to decrease border waits for individuals who use the terminal” said San Diego Councilman David Alvarez.
But south of the border, the project has been criticized by merchants groups that say the benefits to Tijuana are not clear, and fear that they will lose lose customers as ticketed passengers cross directly to the United States.
Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante as recently as this week stated that he intends to block the project on the grounds that GAP owes back property taxes to the city. Bustamante said he won’t grant the land use permit he said is necessary for construction to begin.
Miguel Aliaga, investor relations officer with Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico, or GAP, the Guadalajara-based holding company that runs the Tijuana airport, said in a telephone interview that it has received the necessary Mexican federal permits and plans to begin its expansion project next month.
GAP, which holds a 50-year concession from Mexico’s federal government to operate the Tijuana airport, has maintained that it does not need the city’s permission to expand, and has been engaged in a legal battle with Tijuana over the tax issue. Aliaga said GAP is prepared to pay up if it loses appeals, but is not waiting for any legal decision to launch the expansion.
GAP expects to announce the contractor for the project shortly, Aliaga said.

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