The US-Mexico border wall in Playas de Tijuana on Dec. 21, 2022.
The US-Mexico border wall in Playas de Tijuana on Dec. 21, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

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Over decades of covering the Tijuana-San Diego region, I’ve seen ambitious cross-border proposals rise and fade: A binational aqueduct to carry Colorado River water to both cities. A proposed desalination plant in Rosarito Beach that could sell some of its water to San Diego. Repeated efforts to rebuild a cross-border rail connection between Baja California and California. 

I’ve learned binational collaboration can be a difficult, slow-moving process with many moving parts. So many factors are at play: changing political administrations, shifting economic realities, lawsuits by angry investors. 

But I’ve also seen success: The fabulous binational INsite initiative launched in the 1990s to showcase artists in Tijuana and San Diego. And the privately operated Cross-Border Xpress bridge linking Tijuana’s airport to a terminal in San Diego. 

Today, Tijuana and San Diego are forging ahead on a range of cross-border projects aimed at moving the region forward. Here’s what we can expect this year. 

Cross-border sewage: The U.S. and Mexico celebrated a landmark agreement last August to spend $474 million – $330 million from the United States and $144 million from Mexico – on a series of projects to dramatically reduce the sewage-tainted flows from Mexico into the United States, contaminating beaches in southern San Diego.

But beachgoers on both sides of the border should not expect great changes in 2023. Two centerpiece projects – the rebuilding of Mexico’s dilapidated San Antonio de los Buenos treatment plant and the expansion in the U.S. of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant – are expected to remain in planning and design phases through much of this year.

On the Mexican side, authorities anticipate groundbreaking of the new Tijuana plant in 2024, with a completion date in 2025, said Victor Daniel Amador Barragan, who heads the Tijuana office of the state’s public service commission, CESPT. The plan is for a public-private partnership with almost half the funds – 49 percent – coming from a federal infrastructure fund, FONADIN, and the rest from a private investor. The plant would have an 18 million gallon a day capacity.

“Believe me, the governor is very committed to this project,” Barragan said. 

On the U.S. side, the EPA is completing a review of the San Diego plant, while a contractor hired by the U.S. International and Boundary Commission (IBWC) conducts a “pre-design study.” Doug Eberhardt, an environmental engineer specializing in water infrastructure for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9, said the IBWC expects to “solicit bids for design and maybe for design and construction” of the expanded plant in June.

But other projects in Mexico are well underway, several with U.S. support, including repairs to a major sewage pipe by the U.S. border known as the Colector Internacional. Barragan said they are also moving ahead this year on the upgrading of pump stations by the border in Matadero and Laureles canyons. And the state plans to collaborate with the U.S. on reuse programs for treated wastewater. 

“It might be that some of this funding takes a few years from Mexico to come up with, that’s all part of the process,” Eberhardt said. “But they are coming up with funding…so I definitely feel upbeat.”

Across the border from Tijuana, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre says the fixes cannot happen soon enough for residents of her city. “Last year our southernmost beach was closed all 365 days. Our beach here at the pier was closed 168 days. We’ve had our beach closed every single day this year,” she said. “Would I like it to be faster? Yes, because my community is suffering, period.”

Otay Mesa East Port of Entry: For decades, government and business leaders have envisioned a third border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego exclusively for toll-paying commercial and passenger vehicles – a first for the California-Mexico border. And the coming months will be crucial for moving the project closer to reality.

On the U.S. side, one big challenge will be reaching an agreement with federal agencies as to staffing and furnishing the port once it’s completed. 

Mario Orso, chief deputy district director at Caltrans District 11, said they need “to batten down the agreement” with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration. “That has delayed us a little bit because everybody’s trying to figure out how to go about it.” 

Otay Mesa East is a joint venture between the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and Caltrans, together with  state and federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico. The $1.47-billion facility is slated for opening in 2024.

In Mexico, authorities say they are finalizing right-of-way acquisitions for the project. But Kurt Honold, Baja California’s Secretary of Economy and Innovation, does not anticipate  delays. “It’s little ones that are not done, that’s not going to stop construction,” he said.

The Mexican Secretary of Defense, known as SEDENA, will build the port and Honold said Mexico has the funding. Honold said the military is committed to completing the project this year and will turn over the structure to Mexican customs by Dec. 23 at 11 p.m. 

Cross-border trolley: Don’t expect to ride a trolley across the Tijuana-San Diego border anytime soon – but a private-sector proposal submitted last year to SANDAG has been getting support. This month, the project got the thumbs-up from the agency’S Board of Directors. 

The idea is to extend San Diego’s Blue Line Trolley route one mile into Tijuana, and thus reduce both border congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles. Led by Los Angeles-based Cordoba Corporation, it is one of three innovative private-sector proposals approved for further study by SANDAG staff last year. 

“All the projects still have a level of planning that needs to happen before we’re ready to start looking for money for design and construction,” said Antoinette Meier, SANDAG’s director of Regional Planning. “It’s a lot of planning work and coordination work and outreach work that will be happening over the next 12 to 18 months. We’ll be working on memoranda of understanding in Mexico and on this side of the border.”

World Design Capital: In 2024, San Diego and Tijuana are expected share the spotlight as the first bi-national region to be named World Design Capital. This means that much of 2023 will be spent planning events to “showcase the region in a new light and emphasize the ways design can connect us,” according to the Montreal-based World Design Organization. 

Much of 2023 will be spent on planning and fundraising, “so we can hit the ground running in 2024,” said Carlos de la Mora, CEO of World Design Capital Tijuana-San Diego. 

A public launching scheduled for this May is expected to bring together stakeholders from Tijuana and San Diego with leaders of the World Design Organization. In July, a detailed schedule of events will be announced, said de la Mora.  “What I see is that we have the opportunity with this platform for meaningful regional transformation,” he said. 

The Border Report is back! I’m eager to hear of any concerns and story ideas relating to the Tijuana-San Diego region. Write to me at

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1 Comment

  1. My name Padilla David and in my opinion I would like to bring to the attention to who it may concern for the matter of a new project regarding the environment . My plan is to build a waste management. Company where we recycle trash an us the remaining to fill up creveses on the ground . May I say also by adding street sweeper here in baja California it improve our eco and. Our. Atmosphere. Thanks you for your attention my email ( if you want to know about my plans or join our team msg with your name and info to address the matter in your best interest .

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