(Reuters) - Air travelers crossing the heavily fortified border from Tijuana, Mexico into the United States can now bypass the often hours-long wait with a five-minute stroll across a brand new pedestrian bridge.
The crossing, about the length of a football field, connects a new airline terminal on the San Diego, California, side of the border to the existing terminal in Tijuana, Mexico. This makes it unnecessary for air travelers to exit the airport and queue up with other border-crossers on the ground.
A group of U.S. and Mexican investors, including Chicago billionaire Sam Zell and Carlos Laviada of Mexico spent eight years getting approvals to build the $120 million terminal and pedestrian bridge.
Cross Border Xpress, or CBX, as the new terminal is known, is the only cross-border terminal in the U.S. and one of two in the world. The other is at the French border with Basel, Switzerland.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in a private arrangement with the developer, Otay-Tijuana Venture LLC., runs a fully staffed operation within the terminal that is paid for by the company, according to CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio. Company officials confirmed that it is paying for the CBP presence but declined to provide details.
The Tijuana International Airport serves more than 2 million border-crossing passengers each year, according to Stephanie Saathoff, spokeswoman for CBX. The new airport will specialize in flights to Central and South American cities, as well as direct service to Shanghai, China and Tokyo.
For an $18 fee, travelers arriving and departing from the airport, directly south of the border, can cross the border, and look down on the fences and razor wire separating the two nations. There is a 20 percent discount for people under the age of 12 or over 65, and children less than three years old cross for free.
All fees are waived until Dec. 18 as part of the introduction of the service.
Reporting by Marty Graham; editing by Sara Catania and David Gregorio