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S.D. Airport Authority Goes Back to the Drawing Board


Now that San Diegans have soundly rejected the idea negotiating for a new international airport at Miramar, the flight plan shifts to expanding Lindbergh Field. But already, questions have come up over the best way to maximize Lindbergh’s potential. The Airport Authority has one final meeting Monday, before a new board is appointed to grapple with airport issues. They’ll consider whether to go ahead with the first phase of the existing master plan to expand Lindbergh - or start fresh with a more radical set of changes. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

One of the reasons San Diegans like Lindbergh field is because it’s so easy to get to. What many people don’t realize is that Harbor Drive will get clogged up with traffic sooner than the airstrip will reach capacity for planes.

Jacobson: It’s not going to be the delay on the runway to get the plane off -- that might be a 20 minute delay -- but it might take you two or three hours to get to the airport.

Xema Jacobson is an airport authority board member. Standing by a large to scale model of Lindbergh Field, she points over to the Pacific Highway side of the runway where Interstate-5 and the trolley line run right past the airport.

Jacobson: On the north side, if you put a terminal on the north side you can put let’s say 40% - 48% of your passengers on the north side and free up Harbor Drive.

The idea of putting new airport terminals on the other side of the runway where travelers could get to them more easily, was in an earlier master plan. It was one of many proposals made by the Port District when the agency managed the airport.

Thela Bowens, the airport’s executive director, says the first phase of the current plan doesn’t call for new terminals on the north side. It would build ten new gates on the existing Terminal Two, and a parking structure off Harbor Drive for thousands more cars. Bowens says these additions wouldn’t prevent more drastic changes in the future.

Bowel: These projects that would be implemented under the current master plan EIR would not impact in any way further development of this airfield.

Gary Gallegos, Director of San Diego’s regional planning agency, SANDAG, says more parking is all very well, but the airport should start working on other ways to get to Lindbergh - like high speed bus links, extending the trolley or better freeway access.

Gallegos: We’re all in this together, but you can only squeeze so many cars down Harbor Drive. 

Gallegos says the airport’s plan is only looking ahead ten years.

Gallegos: Our biggest concern was if you look at their traffic numbers they only go out to 2015 which is not consistent with everything we’ve been planning where we try to look at a 2030 horizon.

Xema Jacobson, one of the airport authority board members who did not support Prop A’s focus on Miramar, wonders if the short term planning has an ulterior motive. 

Jackobson: My concerns are that this master plan only goes out to 2015. Is it a poison pill for Lindbergh, so that in 2015 or 2020 Lindbergh is maxed out and you can't do anything else other than move and people say, “see we told you so?”

Jacobson’s speculation reveals an underlying question about what the voters’ rejection of   Prop. A really means. Does it mean Lindbergh is it, even though more than a dozen studies have shown the airfield  cannot meet the region’s needs  in 20 years?  Or does it simply leave unanswered the question of where a new airport will be built?

Airport Director Thela Bowen says the first phase of the expansion plan leaves the options open.

Bowen: There’s been no hidden agendas about not developing this to is fullest potential. None of what we’re talking about building now is subject to being torn down to build other things. If people are saying that that is their own back of the napkin planning

But Steve Peace, the creator of the Airport Authority, believes the vote against Miramar as a new airport site should be a signal to launch more ambitious plans at Lindbergh .

Peace: Imagine an airport in which we take that canal at the far end of the runway, move it around over to terminals that get moved over to the Pacific Highway side so a tourist gets out of an airplane and into a water taxi and arrives at their hotel from the water side. There’s all kinds of great things we can do. It’s time to move those terminals over, give us a master plan that makes sense. Get Harbor Drive out of the equation.

One close observer of the airport dilemma from a regional perspective is Professor Steve Erie of UC San Diego. Erie has studied how growth is affecting both Los Angeles and San Diego and he hopes the new board gets airborne as fast as possible.   

Erie: Is the current plan, the $600 million whatever  - appropriate, do we need to go back to the drawing boards? I don’t know. But unless there are fatal flaws, we do need to move forward without too much delay.

The number of passengers using San Diego’s airport will likely grow from around 17 million this year to 30 million in a couple of decades, and that future is fast approaching.  

Whatever the airport authority votes on the expansion plan, their decision may be overturned by a new board - yet to be appointed- that takes over next year. Alison St John, KPBS News.   




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