Imagine riding an elevated tram in Tijuana – and moments later emerging across the border into the United States. More hours spent walking towards the entry port of San Ysidro. No more getting stuck in queues of idling cars.

The Association of San Diego Governments is supporting a private sector study that plans to expand San Diego’s Blue Line Trolley across the border to Tijuana. If that sounds far-fetched, proponents point out that their idea isn’t all that different from the Cross-Border Xpress, the airport’s pedestrian bridge connecting travelers from San Diego to AL Rodriguez International Airport in Tijuana.

In this case, the goal is to reduce wait times and reduce vehicle pollution at the port of entry of San Ysidro, the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere.

SANDAG this month awarded $50,000 to Los Angeles-based Cordoba Corporation to research the idea — and come up with detailed responses by September. What permits would he need? Who would use it? What would be the deadline? SANDAG plans to fund it through a public-private partnership – but where exactly would the funding come from?

Few would dispute the need for a solution. In this case, the effort is carried out within the framework of SANDAG’s 2021 regional plan.

“We have huge problems with border congestion, it creates a lot of air quality problems, security problems around the border,” Antoinette Meier, senior director of regional planning told me. SANDAG, last week. “It’s an opportunity to address them in a really sustainable way.”

To understand the situation in San Ysidro, look no further than last Friday and Saturday morning, when pedestrians reported waits of three hours or more to enter the United States.

Among them was Omar Luna, 17, a US citizen who lives in Tijuana – but crossed paths on Friday for his job at a fast food joint in El Cajon. I contacted him after seeing a photo of the line he posted on a Facebook page regarding border wait times.

“It’s three o’clock in the sun, by the time you get there you’re very tired,” Luna told me. It usually takes an hour to cross at 5:30 a.m. for a morning shift, but that day he was working in the afternoon, and the line took him by surprise.

Operated by San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System, the Blue Line is familiar to many commuters. Agency figures show that on an average weekday, more than 12,000 people board the line at San Ysidro. The agency “estimates that the overwhelming majority are pedestrians crossing from Tijuana,” spokesman Mark Olson said.

But these pedestrian crossings are not the only potential source of cross-border trolley users. The idea is also to persuade a significant number of drivers to switch to the cross-border trolley, thereby reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions in the northbound car lanes.

A company specializing in transport infrastructure, Cordoba responded to the invitation launched by SANDAG last November for innovative proposals from the private sector. The agency called for the proposals to focus on creating transportation connectors to ensure a system in San Diego County that is “faster, fairer, and cleaner.” Of 18 submissions, the Cordoba team was one of three selected for funding and presented to the board on Friday.

In September, the three teams will be invited to publicly present their refined concepts in front of a panel of experts. “And from there we can decide if we want to go ahead with the implementation of one of these projects,” Meier said.

By addressing the private sector in this way – a first for SANDAG – the hope is to generate new ideas. “Technology is advancing incredibly quickly, and we don’t want to assume we’re the experts,” Meier said. “It allowed us to identify new technologies, new services, new business models, new ways of collaborating that we probably wouldn’t have considered on our own.”

In an interview last week, Cordoba staff sketched out some of their preliminary proposals, which are subject to change as the study progresses. For now, the Tijuana terminal would be located on Avenida Revolucion and passengers would be charged between $5 and $8. They estimate 2 million paying passengers in the first year, but predict demand will quickly double.

“It’s not going to be an expensive system because we all assume MTS is going to run it. They already have the trains, they already have the infrastructure. So it’s really an extension of the same one-mile line,” said said Conrado Ayala, Cordoba’s vice president for transport infrastructure.

The Baja California government has also been looking for ways to streamline border crossing. Kurt Honold, the secretary of economy and innovation, told me earlier this year that the state was considering a proposal for a cross-border pedestrian tunnel that would connect Tijuana’s sleepers to the Blue Line in San Ysidro.

Cordoba has already been in contact with the state of Baja California, where officials “are very willing and interested in working with us,” said Jacqueline Reynoso, director of corporate programs and policy.

Moving forward, a key first step will be to obtain a U.S. presidential permit needed for any such cross-border project, Reynoso said.

When I asked the pedestrian Luna what he thought would be of interest in a cross-border tram connection, he had no hesitation in answering: if they build it, people will come. Maybe too crowded, he said.

“It sounds like a really good proposal, but they should really think about it, because everyone would go there, you understand?” he said. “It would also be full.”

In other news

  • Deaths by heat: Baja California’s desert capital, Mexicali, has suffered from a heat wave, with temperatures reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit in recent days, and there have been fatal consequences. From late June through Friday, the state medical examiner’s office reported nine heat-related deaths. Dr. Cesar Gonzalez Baca, the state’s chief medical examiner, told RadarBC that the victims were mostly foreigners – migrants unaccustomed to the city’s scorching temperatures. (Reforma, Radarbc, La Jornada.)
  • The deported veteran returns: US Army veteran Juan Salvador Quiroz entered the United States through the San Ysidro port of entry last week, nine years after being deported to Mexico. Married with four children, Quiroz said he was granted humanitarian parole due to his wife’s illness. (Telemundo, Getty Images)
  • Change in eviction policy: An undocumented San Diego resident with no criminal history was deported to Mexico earlier this month in what immigration lawyers say is a break from previous policy. Eduardo Sanchez was deported less than a week after a federal appeals court overturned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines “prioritizing deportations based on a significant criminal history or problem of national history,” reported the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • Plastic surgery probe: Authorities in Baja California are investigating the death of a Guatemalan woman following plastic surgery in Tijuana. State officials said the hospital where the operation was to take place was operating without a license. (San Diego Union-Tribune).
  • San Diego moves to Tijuana: The Covid-19 pandemic is one of many factors accelerating the trend of San Diegan residents moving to Tijuana, where rents are 62% lower, The New York Times reported.
  • Border Journalism: Tijuana reporter Vicente Calderon called for greater cooperation between American and Mexican journalists as he received the Journalist of the Year award from the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists on Thursday. “We can really work together, to the benefit not of the press on both sides, but also of the communities on both sides,” Calderon said.