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Costs of Proposed Miramar Airport Analyzed

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The ballot measure itself is virtually devoid of specifics, making it hard to know which arguments to believe. So, to look at what it might cost and could be worth, there's only one place to turn: the home of money, investment and development, the Monopoly board.

First off, the going price for an airport at Miramar – $7.3 billion dollars. That's the best guess we can find, and even though it's for a proposal the Airport Authority isn't really using any more, they still say it's a pretty good estimate. What do you get for $7.3 billion these days?

About a billion dollars goes for the land and getting it ready to build on. They would actually lease the land from the federal government, paying about $35 million a year in rent.

Another $3.3 billion actually builds the runways and the terminal building, the parking lots and so forth. Then a billion and a half for utilities and road improvements. This plan would move Interstate 15 and Highway 163 farther east. That alone is a little over a billion dollars. That gets it up to just about $6 billion.

Now add something between a billion and a billion and a half for environmental mitigation costs. Miramar is not all jets and helicopters - there are endangered species out there. But there you have it. Now, that’s $7.3 billion. That's what it would have cost had it been built last year.

Figure on the price being much higher in 20 or 25 years. That's about the earliest construction could actually start. You see, they figure to spend 16 years or so in court, fighting lawsuits. 

And wait, there are more costs. The ballot measure promises that if the Marines move some or all of their operation, it won't cost the military anything. Understand the Marines say they're not going anywhere, or changing anything.

Airport Authority Chairman Joe Craver says the military would need to "redeploy" some of its operation to accommodate the airport.

So far, all of that could be paid for by the airport and the people who use it. It collects fees from passengers and airlines, and the Federal Aviation Administration would come up with some money. But there are costs the airport won't pay for, namely street and highway improvements. An airport at Miramar would mean part of Miramar Road would have to be widened from six lanes to eight.

Southbound I-15 would have more traffic than it could handle, and so would 805, going both north and south. The San Diego Association of Governments estimates, on average, adding a lane to a freeway costs nearly $13.5 million a mile. That would be the taxpayers' cost.

All this gets us to the next question: what's a new airport worth? Time to call in an economist. `Alan Gin at USD tracks the San Diego economy more closely than just about anyone. There are a lot of estimates about what would be lost if we don't have a big new airport. Those estimates range from nothing at all to $130 billion.

Alan Gin: It depends on the assumptions that you make. How fast will we reach our capacity, what will the economy be like, will we have to move a lot of freight, what will be the number of arriving passengers, and so on, and people differ on their assumptions.

Alan Gin: The worry is that if we don't move the airport from its current location, expand it so it can handle more operations, that that will adversely affect the local economy.

Oh, oh. Lose one turn.

Alan Gin: The people who oppose moving the airport would argue that we could have adequate economic growth and employment growth for the next couple of decades.

Advance two spaces. But what if the Marines leave?

Alan Gin: You know there are thousand of people employed at Miramar. If they left the county altogether, if they didn't go to Camp Pendleton or somewhere else, it would be big blow to the local economy.

Go back three spaces. Isn't there any way to win this game?

Alan Gin: It's a trade off. Do you take the short term pain of losing the military pay and jobs, with the potential that the economy could do much better far into the future?

In other words, roll the dice. And, there's another consideration.

San Diegan: I don't have the ins and outs of it, but I know from what I've read so far that they're concerned about how it's going to affect the noise level, the values, the traffic and so forth. So from my perspective, that's a negative.

Alan Gin: There are quality of life considerations. Some people worry that if the economy grows too much, we get too many people living here, that the quality of life will deteriorate. We will have more pollution, more congestion, more difficulty in housing people.

Economists always have two hands, just so they can say things like "on the other hand…."

Alan Gin: We're adding about 50,000 people here every year through growth of births over deaths. And if we want our children to be able to live and work in San Diego, we're going to have to have jobs for them.

Can a new airport do that?

Alan Gin: The problem is, we're a cul-de-sac here in San Diego. We have to compete with Los Angeles that's just 100 miles down the road.

This would be much simpler if there were easy answers. Plus, with the Pentagon and most elected officials against it, there's a chance the Miramar Airport idea will never pass go.

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