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Trolley extension to San Diego International Airport is feasible, MTS study finds

Airline passengers walk around San Diego International Airport with their luggage, Dec. 21, 2020.
Guillermo Sevilla
Airline passengers walk around San Diego International Airport with their luggage, Dec. 21, 2020.

A Metropolitan Transit System study released Thursday found that extending the Trolley to the San Diego International Airport is not only feasible, but could be completed in the next 10 years if things fall into place.

At Thursday's MTS Board of Directors meeting, transportation experts from Mott MacDonald presented multiple options for construction as part of the preliminary feasibility study.

"San Diegans have always wanted a Trolley connection to the airport and now is the time to move forward," said Nathan Fletcher, MTS board chair, and chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. "We have an opportunity to invest in good jobs and build a world-class rail connection to our airport that will greatly benefit not only visitors to San Diego but hard- working San Diegans who currently have no rail connection to the airport."

The study looked at three different options for construction: an elevated guideway off Laurel Street and two underground options at Hawthorne. MTS staff favored the underground option along Hawthorn Street due to "no airspace restrictions, minimized private property impacts and lowest cost," a statement from the transit agency read.

With this preference in mind, Mott McDonald examined two types of underground construction methods to be considered in a final plan — tunnel boring and cut and cover. The study concluded the project is feasible.

"The feasibility study findings demonstrate a Trolley to the airport is possible and while we have a ways to go in planning, stakeholder engagement and execution, there is a unique opportunity to further our reputation as a world-class region by offering the fastest rail connection in the United States between an airport and convention center," Fletcher said. "Just like the recent Trolley extension to UC San Diego, the VA Medical Center and UTC, this would be yet another game-changer for San Diego."

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The MTS board authorized staff to pursue federal and state grants for the project, focusing on the underground options that connect to the existing rail alignment near Hawthorn Street, and to continue community outreach efforts.

According to the study, the MTS alignment also proposes a station at each airport terminal running parallel with Harbor Drive, including aligning with the Terminal 1 reconstruction. The proposed alignment could allow future expansion into Point Loma and beach communities.

San Diego International Airport has set aside more than $500 million for transportation improvements, including transit to the airport, an MTS statement said.