A project without borders

June 7, 2016

Patience paid off in realizing the Otay-Tijuana Cross Border Xpress, the first cross-border terminal of its kind

By Stanis Smith


About seven years ago I received one of the strangest phone calls of my career from an individual in Chicago. He said he was impressed with our airport expertise and, more specifically, our understanding of how to design US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) facilities for airports. He then shared that his company was involved in a consortium that wanted to build a new USCBP facility opposite the existing Tijuana Airport terminal in Mexico.



My initial thought was “Why?” He then went on to explain that this new USCBP facility would be connected to the Tijuana Airport Terminal via a bridge over the border, at which point I frankly started wondering what he was smoking. He explained that millions of people currently drive across the border to take low-cost flights out of Tijuana, and that this project would provide them with a quicker and more convenient alternative to driving across the border. He asked me to send him our design credentials, which I did, making a mental note-to-self that this project had an approximately 1% chance of ever being realized. 

On to the present day…



A few weeks ago, and seven years later, I was proud, together with Christopher Wilson and Arun Kaiwar, to attend the opening of Otay-Tijuana Cross Border Xpress, the only privately-funded border crossing between the US and Mexico. The hurdles that had to be overcome in getting it realized were unprecedented, including getting a Presidential Permit for a new USCBP facility, likely the first of its kind to be built since the 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Standing at the opening, we appreciated the combination of our expertise with the design approach of our collaborators, the distinguished Mexican firm Legorreta + Legorreta. They brought an aesthetic approach to the project that is bold, modern, and respectful of the architecture of Mexico and California, with vibrant colors that evoke the “Las Californias” heritage common to both sides of the border. We blended their design approach with our knowledge of how to make an “airport” that is both functional and a pleasant passenger experience.

Since opening in December 2015, CBX has been used by an average of about 2,300 passengers a day. From a passenger perspective, the building is really simple and intuitive. If you are travelling from the US to Mexico, you park on the property, check in using our building, walk across the bridge over the border, and drop straight into the Tijuana Terminal. Coming home northbound, you walk across the bridge (separated from the southbound passengers, of course), drop down into the new USCBP facility, and arrive in the US. The project is financed with a modest fee.

Given that there is absolutely no precedent for this project, which is a hybrid between a land-crossing and an airport, given the complexity of a client structure that was both Mexican and US, and given all of the regulatory hurdles that we had to overcome, it is almost miraculous that the project finally opened to wide acclaim.

It was well worth the wait.

Previous Article
Smaller cities lighten up on minimum parking requirements
Smaller cities lighten up on minimum parking requirements

Read Craig Lewis's article in Development Magazine.

Next Article
Restoring a landmark
Restoring a landmark

Designing a signature bridge between Shrewsbury and Worcester, Massachusetts.