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A year after former Mayor Bob Filner’s idea for a binational Olympics bid rankled San Diego, the city’s in a better position than ever to join forces with our neighbors down south.

To be clear, there isn’t a Tijuana-San Diego Olympics bid on the table. But Tijuana is rapidly becoming a hub of innovation. Even if Filner’s idea was essentially laughed out of the room, the two cities have been marching toward more connectivity.

As VOSD’s Kelly Bennett put it: “The mayor waxed on, coining a mantra for the effort — ‘Even if we lose, we win.’ He painted the effort as a motivator, a deadline to confront some of the region’s big transportation and border challenges, and a reason to catalog both cities’ cultural and environmental assets.”

Tijuana’s wheels were turning before Filner hopped on board, though, said Mario Lopez, a binational affairs consultant.

“While Bob was the first mayor of San Diego to actually campaign on closer ties with Tijuana and Mexico in general,” Lopez said, “he was riding a wave that had formed some time before he became mayor.”

In business and culture, that wave has become a force to be reckoned with. Here are a few wins Tijuana has racked up recently.

Tijuana Innovadora

Tijuana Innovadora, a 10-day conference starting Thursday at Centro Cultural Tijuana, showcases the region’s progressive ideas in tech, health, environmental issues and design – all of which represent big opportunities for San Diego.

This is easily the flashiest example of cross-border collaboration. All told, the conference “draws more than four times as many conference-goers as Comic-Con” with support from “San Diego-area government, business and educational leaders,” according to organizers. This is the third iteration of Innovadora: The first was in 2010, and more than 500,000 people showed up for the 2012 edition.

This year’s confab boasts a VIP list of speakers and attendees: former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and our own Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

On the tech side, Google, Mozilla and MIT will have reps on-site for Campus Link to attract and advise younger attendees from both sides of the border. A mega hackathon intends to set a Guinness world record with 3,000 people programming at once. A fashion show and three “Iron Chef”-esque culinary competitions balance things out with infusions of culture.

Faulconer is set to join Tijuana Mayor Jorge Astiazarán on a panel. In a press conference last month, Faulconer tried to rally San Diegans to make their way south. From the U-T:

“My hope is that many San Diego companies and citizens will take the time to attend the event and make important and valuable connections,” Faulconer said. “That’s what Innovadora is all about, harnessing this energy, harnessing this expertise, harnessing this optimism that all of us share.”

San Ysidro Wait Times

Last month, U.S. border authorities opened all 25 northbound lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. KPBS spoke to commuters just after the lane openings. Instead of the usual two to three hours spent waiting to cross the border, weekday traffic sailed through.

“It’s a game changer for our region,” said Paola Ávila, who heads the Mexico Business Center at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Ávila admits that Baja California still has an image problem because of heightened violence there in years past. But at least now “you can also go and come back within a normal, average amount of time that it would take you to go, say, to North County for dinner,” she said.

That’s part of an ongoing expansion project; Phase 1 is supposed to wrap in January 2016. When all three phases are completed, according to the U.S. General Services Administration, “the new port will boast 62 northbound vehicle primary inspection booths, one dedicated bus lane and inspection booth spread over 34 lanes, as well as improved processing facilities for bus and Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) travelers.”

We’ll have to wait a little longer than expected for what was supposed to be another boon in transportation: the overhaul of a part of the Tijauna-Ensenada toll road. Just a week before its scheduled reopening in September, Mexican federal authorities announced cracks and leaks had been found near the 20-mile stretch under construction.

Precaution took priority, and officials pushed back the reopening to December. From the U-T:

The toll road is a major artery for Baja California, used by tourists as well as trucks that transport produce and seafood products to the U.S. border. But its location in a geologically unstable region has been problematic. A mass beneath the surface that retains rainwater is a major factor in the instability, and the reconstruction has involved construction of a subterranean drainage system to capture the soil’s moisture.

Cross-Border Airport Terminal

Otay Mesa broke ground in June on its side of the $78 million cross-border terminal that’ll make it much easier for San Diegans to fly out of Tijuana’s General Abelardo L. Rodriguez International Airport, which should be done sometime next year

Construction on the Mexican side of the terminal has been under way since September 2013.

Some 2.4 million travelers from the U.S. already use the Tijuana airport each year, Lisa Halverstadt wrote in April, and backers of the new cross-border terminal estimate about 1.7 million TIJ passengers will use their facility every year:

[Field operations director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego office Pete] Flores anticipates the bridge will also help ease congestion and long lines at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry.

Kenn Morris, who leads the business consulting firm Crossborder Group and regularly studies binational trends, said he expects the majority of pedestrian bridge users will be Mexican travelers visiting Southern California or U.S. residents vacationing in Mexico.

Desert Line

When it comes to reconstructing portions of the so-called “Impossible Railroad,” our southern neighbors are downright embarrassing us. On the U.S. side, Pacific Imperial Railroad has struggled to make any headway reviving the Desert Line, a 70-mile stretch of defunct rail in southeastern San Diego County that was leased to the company by Metropolitan Transit System.

Pacific Imperial wants the line to serve as a direct link between factories in northern Mexico and markets in eastern U.S. “They are particularly focused on moving cars and other freight made in a factory-filled region between Tijuana and Tecate in Mexico into the U.S.,” Ari Bloomekatz reported.

Baja California isn’t waiting for Pacific Imperial to get its act together. Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid announced in September he had gotten more than $15 million from Mexico’s government to fix up the Impossible Railroad segment between TJ and Tecate, about 44 miles long. Vega took the opportunity to serve up some real talk for Pacific Imperial and the U.S. as a whole. From the U-T: 

“We can no longer be waiting to hear that tomorrow they’re going to get the line of credit, or the guarantee for their investment,” he said. … A big hurdle is getting the U.S. and Mexican sides to collaborate. “We see that we are not synchronized,” Vega said, “but that’s not going to stop us on this side.”

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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