Study finds MTS could link trolley to the airport within 10 years
Speaker 1: (00:00)
San Diego could build a new trolley line to the airport in the next decade. That's the conclusion of a new feasibility study released by the metropolitan transit system last week, many newcomers to San Diego. Wonder why the trolley doesn't go to the airport already. It comes tantalizingly close. The tracks run just a few hundred feet from the airport's outer boundaries. So what has to happen in order for this project to actually get done? Joining me to discuss is call parent executive director of the nonprofit think tank circulate San Diego, Colin. Welcome to the program. Hey, thanks
Speaker 2: (00:35)
Andrew. For having me,
Speaker 1: (00:36)
It seems like connecting the trolley to the airport has been on San Diego's to-do for a really long time. So what new information is in this feasibility study that we didn't know before?
Speaker 2: (00:48)
Yeah, so I think there's really two things Andrew, for this one is that the feasibility study really fundamentally just shows that there is no technical reason why we can't make this connection with the trolley. So there's no, there's no fatal flaw in the idea, but I think perhaps more importantly is not the, the study itself, but the action by the MTS board last week that said not only we are gonna accept this study, but we are actually gonna make it a project in our capital improvement program and make it a priority for the agency to
Speaker 1: (01:19)
Complete MTS already has a bus line that goes to the airport. I've used it myself. Uh, it's not great, but it could be made a lot better if maybe it had its own bus lane and didn't have to mix with the regular traffic, all the cars going to the airport. What is better about an actual rail line to the airport as opposed to a much cheaper option of just improving the bus connection? Yeah,
Speaker 2: (01:41)
So I mean, first of all, the, the bus connection is really great that 9 92, um, and, and MTS and airport authority actually just started a new bus connection for, um, for commuters coming in from the old town station. So I, I think it's important to understand that, you know, there's prob there really needs to be multiple ways to use transit, to access the airport, uh, trolley. The airport's a great one, but we also should be investing, continuing to invest in those kinds of surface street, uh, improvements. And so, yeah, absolutely there should be some bus only facilities, um, uh, for the airport, um, to make those, those lines, uh, work even better. But I think the, the, the, the other advantages around rail and rail connection is that even in a best case scenario, a bus does mean that people are gonna have to Lu, um, luggage up some stairs and, and that kind of thing, and a, and a rail connection, uh, is oftentimes easier to do that kind of stuff. And so that's, that's a big, uh, big reason to make that improvement. But then the other thing is that, uh, a rail connection, just, it, it just more appealing to more people. And there's, I think there's really something valuable in, in designing our transit system that has a real sort of broad appeal. And so we shouldn't shy away for making improvements that that really do excite people.
Speaker 1: (02:57)
Let's talk about the options here. MTS is talking about three of them in this study. One is an elevated track along Laurel street, and two options would go underground. So which one does MTS prefer and why? Yeah,
Speaker 2: (03:11)
So right now it looks like MTS has a preference to do one of those undergrounding options. One that has a, just a, a sync connection from, uh, south of the airport going, uh, under some other tracks and, and on, on toward the airport, uh, along Harbor drive. Uh, but you know, there, there is, uh, there's gonna be a lot more, uh, technical and engineering work. That's gonna have to go in to, uh, to doing a project like this. And so I think it's, it's not, it's not decided exactly the routing or exactly the mechanism. So I think it's still very much on the table, whether or not it's gonna be underground or, or above grade. And, and really, I think right now still a variety of options are on the table. Earlier,
Speaker 1: (03:54)
Studies were examining a rail connection that started not in little Italy set off of the airport, but north of the airport at the Navar facility in the midway district, the Navy of course, is planning on redeveloping that property. Why does that idea of a connection from the north side seem to be falling out of fashion? Well,
Speaker 2: (04:13)
That idea of using the Navar facility as the primary way to connect tra transit to the airport is actually like a pretty new idea. It's only been on the table for a few years, uh, and it's not a surprise to me at all that that is, uh, you know, fallen out of favor because it really didn't make a lot of sense on its face. Most of the transit writers in the region of live, uh, south of the airport, most of the people who work in at the airport, uh, live south of the airport, it just didn't make a lot of sense to make transit writers go north of the airport and then to the Navor area, and then double back in order to be able to access the airport. That's something that circulates San Diego has raised, uh, over the last few years. It made, you know, some substantial criticism of, of that proposal from sand ag. And now SANDAG seems to have come to its senses and is looking at a route that makes more ordinary sense for most potential writers
Speaker 1: (05:10)
Let's talk numbers. So how much would this new trolley airport connection cost and how could it be financed? Yeah,
Speaker 2: (05:16)
So the agency is, is looking at, um, a couple of different options and a, I think in their, in their presentation to the board last week, they were looking at a couple options between 1.5, uh, and 2.5 billion. And, um, so those are, and those are, you know, those are there's about a billion difference, right? And, um, so, you know, really the cost differential depends on, on a variety of things in particular, like how much of the project needs to be under rounded, is it gonna be at grade or above grade? Um, and then of course there's just also some unknowns. Um, and so the, the financing is probably gonna come from a variety of sources. Uh, one key source is that the airport, when they, uh, uh, enhanced their, when they decided to move forward with their terminal one expansion, they committed, uh, a half billion dollars in, uh, uh, revenues from passenger fees to improve transportation.
Speaker 2: (06:12)
And so some share of that half billion is gonna be available for a trans connection that was a big win for the region. It was something that circulates San Diego advocated for. And so that could, that could take a big chunk out of, um, out of a project like this, but then we can also be looking for, uh, funding from the new federal infrastructure bill. And then finally, there's likely to be, uh, uh, some votes before the voters in the San Diego re to finance transportation improvements, maybe as soon as, uh, this fall and those kinds of local revenues can also be brought, um, to support and to build this, uh, this popular project.
Speaker 1: (06:47)
What has to happen for this idea of bringing the trolley to the airport to move to the next phase? Yeah,
Speaker 2: (06:53)
So a, a couple of things, I mean, first of all, the, the, the board at, uh, Mt made a really important decision last week where they said, listen, we, we like this project. We're gonna put this, add this to our capital improvement, uh, uh, list essentially the, the list of capital projects that they wanna see get built. And so now the, the next step is the agency, uh, has to sort of look for additional grants, additional funding opportunities. Uh, they have to, they probably are looking very keenly on, on whether or not the, uh, voters approve this, uh, transportation ballot measure that, uh, is likely to be before the voters in, um, in the fall. Uh, but then they're also gonna need to get some buy-in from their, uh, their partners at sand ag, the, the other, uh, regional transportation planning agency. But I have some pretty strong confidence that if the, the board of MTS, which has a bunch of elected officials around the region say, yeah, this is what we want. And the polling all shows that the voters are excited about this kinds of project, that the SANDAG is gonna do the right thing and incorporate into their plants as well.
Speaker 1: (07:52)
I've been speaking with Colin parent executive director of the nonprofit circulate San Diego. He's also a member of the Lam, a city council, Colin, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 2: (08:01)
Hey, thanks for having me, Andrew.
San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System has released a feasibility study that examines connecting the trolley to San Diego International Airport.
The study found no "fatal flaws" in the concept, meaning it could be built within the next decade. The MTS board of directors received the report last week and voted to include the project on its list of capital improvements to plan for.
Colin Parent, executive director of the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, joined KPBS Midday Edition to discuss the study's findings.