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Binational Cooperation on Display|at US-Mexico Airport Crossing

SAN DIEGO (CN) - Political leaders from San Diego and Mexico gathered Thursday for the official inauguration of the Cross Border Xpress pedestrian bridge connecting San Diego directly to the Tijuana Airport.

The bridge opened last December and has since served about 2,000 international travelers a day, while traffic hit an all-time high of 5,000 passengers a day during the holiday season, according to the airport terminal. There has also been a 40 percent increase in the number of passengers flying out of Tijuana since the bridge opened, according to the airport.

At full capacity, the terminal should serve more than 2 million people annually.

Regional leaders including San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Dr. Jorge Astiazaran joined Mexican secretaries and Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, to mark the collaboration of both nations on not only air travel, but trade and other areas in which they hope to become international leaders as the "North American region."

"Our relationship with Mexico is a strength and something to be celebrated. We are literally building bridges between the two countries," Faulconer told the packed room.

Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega de la Madrid told the crowd the joint project was "the best signal we could have sent regarding the relationship of two neighboring countries." He noted Mexico has other infrastructure plans in the works, including widening the port and building a small international airport in the beach town of Ensenada, a couple hours south of Tijuana.

The binational flavor of the terminal was on display, as traveling families with suitcases shuffled past advertisements featuring San Diego attractions such as SeaWorld, Balboa Park and The San Diego Zoo.

The Cross Border Xpress - known as the CBX - connects the south San Diego community of Otay Mesa to Tijuana's airport. Travelers who have purchased airline tickets park their cars on the U.S. side of the border, go through traditional security and immigration screenings and walk across the 390-foot passageway, over the U.S.-Mexico border and directly into the Tijuana airport.

Taking the bridge costs $12 each way, a small price to pay to avoid long waits at the congested San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry.

The terminal took roughly 20 years to get sanctioned and approved, owing to the complex regulatory nature of the project. The bridge even required presidential approval before being developed by its owner, Otay Tijuana Venture.

The pedestrian bridge, a $120 million private project, took about eight years to complete including the expansion of the airport and terminal in Mexico, according to Mexico Tourism Secretary Enrique De La Madrid Cordero.

"The bridge reflects the true relationship of the United States and Mexico. Our countries are unified by our history, but also our future. Tourism unifies us and allows us to destroy stereotypes by knowing each other better," Cordero said.

Following that thread, Mexico's secretary of foreign affairs Claudia Ruiz Massieu gave the longest speech of the morning, subtly taking jabs at the current U.S. political climate fueled by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and his rallying cry to build a huge wall separating the United States and Mexico.

"We have chosen to travel together on the path of integration. No Mexican, no American is on the wrong side of any border," Massieu told the crowd - which collectively gave an audible gasp.

Massieu told the crowd the "reality" is more than 33 million people living in the United States have Mexican origins and 6 million U.S. jobs rely on Mexico. Improving and modernizing existing infrastructure along the border, as well as building new projects to support binational transit and trade, is beneficial to both countries, she said.

Building a wall, Massieu said, is not a worthy investment.

"We share a huge border, but above all, we share values and interests. The country that demanded to tear down the wall in Berlin in the 20th century should not be building walls in the 21st century," Massieu said.

Only travelers carrying valid boarding passes for a flight either departing Tijuana airport within 24 hours or having arrived within four hours may use the sky bridge. People not flying - including those hoping to escort relatives who are - may not use the CBX to enter either the United States or Mexico, the CBX website says.

Photo credits: Bianca Bruno/CNS

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