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Plan to build transit connection to San Diego airport could begin in 2024

An aerial view of buildings in Downtown San Diego. Oct. 2, 2020.
Matthew Bowler
An aerial view of buildings in Downtown San Diego. Oct. 2, 2020.

The San Diego Association of Governments will move forward on a public transportation connection to San Diego International Airport with downtown as the preferred site of a central mobility hub, it was announced Wednesday.

SANDAG, Navy Region Southwest and the city of San Diego updated their collective vision for the hub, intended to provide the region with a centrally located transit center that serves everyone going to or from the airport — whether they use the bus, trolley, or commuter rail like the COASTER and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

"We've spent the last couple of years listening to the community, working with our partner agencies, and really digging into the details to ensure the central mobility hub project is a place that will serve everyone in the region," SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. "Two things have become clear — transit to the airport must be our first priority and moving the central mobility hub downtown will provide the connectivity, density and overall convenience we need to truly transform the regional transit system through this investment."


To expedite the project and ensure the region is well-positioned to be the first in line for federal infrastructure funding, the agency plans to move forward this year with the environmental review process for the airport connection components of the project.

SANDAG plans to build two direct transit connections to the airport, one from a new transit center located at the Port of San Diego headquarters on Pacific Highway and the other from the existing Santa Fe Depot. These connections are planned to link to the future Central Mobility Hub, which will be built at a location yet to be determined in downtown San Diego.

"The world's greatest cities have convenient transit to their airports, and this project will allow San Diego to join their ranks, finally providing this missing link in our regional infrastructure," San Diego Mayor and SANDAG Vice Chair Todd Gloria said. "Downtown San Diego is the perfect location for a transformational project that will enhance transit mobility for the entire region. It's time to put this big city vision into action and get shovels in the ground."

SANDAG leaders said they anticipate beginning the environmental review for the transit connection to the airport this summer. The environmental review for the hub site will follow, after additional study.

As recently as October 2020, SANDAG — the region's transportation agency — had been in talks with the Navy over using the outdated Naval Information Warfare Systems Command site near Old Town for the transit hub. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill written by then-Assemblyman Gloria and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, intended to pave the way for redeveloping the NAVWAR Command site.


The Navy signaled its intent to redevelop the NAVWAR campus in late 2018, citing the facility's lack of adaptability and compatibility with modern mission requirements. The facilities are essentially old aircraft hangars from the 1950s and 1960s repurposed to house cybersecurity professionals.

SANDAG and the Navy continued discussions on the revitalization of the NAVWAR facilities but have agreed to stop exploring the site for the central mobility hub, instead focusing efforts on possibly including a future transit stop at the site as part of the Navy's revitalization efforts for NAVWAR and a potential larger mixed-use development.

"The city of San Diego and SANDAG have been exceptional in their support of the Navy," Navy Region Southwest Commander Rear Admiral Stephen Barnett said. "We look forward to continuing to work with the city and SANDAG as we move forward with the Navy Old Town Campus Revitalization project, and connect NAVWAR to the regional transportation system.

"The revitalization of NAVWAR's facilities right here in San Diego is urgently needed to support their national security mission and will benefit both the Navy and San Diego for many years to come," he said.