World

$120m airport that straddles U.S and Mexico opens

  • In this Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 photo, the walking bridge is shown at the Cross Border Xpress air terminal in San Diego. The terminal, which uses the bridge to connect to Tijuana, Mexico's decades-old airport, is scheduled to begin operations on Wednesday, Dec. 9. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

    In this Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 photo, the walking bridge is shown at the Cross Border Xpress air terminal in San Diego. The terminal, which uses the bridge to connect to Tijuana, Mexico's decades-old airport, is scheduled to begin operations on Wednesday, Dec. 9. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

One of the world's only airports spanning two countries opened Wednesday on a heavily fortified divide separating the United States and Mexico.

The first arrivals came on an Aeromexico flight from Mexico City to the decades-old Tijuana International Airport and walked across a 390-foot bridge to a new $120 million terminal in San Diego.

Target customers are the estimated 60 percent of Tijuana airport passengers who come to the United States, about 2.6 million last year. Until now, they drove about 15 minutes to a congested land crossing, where they waited up to several hours to enter San Diego by car or on foot. The airport bridge is a five-minute walk to a U.S. border inspector.

"What a difference," said Elba Hernandez, 69, who flew to Tijuana from Guadalajara after visiting family and walked across the airport bridge to San Diego, where her sister picked her up.

The only other cross-border airport known to industry experts is in the European Union — between Basel, Switzerland, and France's Upper Rhine region — but it carries none of the political freight of San Diego and Tijuana. Mexicans who ran across the border illegally overwhelmed the Border Patrol until the mid-1990s, when new fences and additional agents heralded a massive surge in U.S. enforcement.

Cross Border Xpress, one of the largest privately operated U.S. air terminals, will charge $18 each way for ticketed passengers. Much of that will go to pay the salaries of U.S. border inspectors.

A group of U.S. and Mexican investors that includes Chicago billionaire Sam Zell expects to make money on a duty-free shop, rental car companies, restaurants and other concessions. The terminal occupies less than half their 55-acre parcel, and the city of San Diego has approved a 340-room hotel, shopping center and gas station.

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