Airport transportation concerns slowing plans for expansion

Getting to and from Lindbergh at center of debate
Posted at 8:09 AM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 20:33:13-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -  As the San Diego Airport plans a $3 Billion expansion to Terminal 1, concerns over how to get people to and from Lindbergh Field are creating problems for the project.

"We are the first and last impression people have of San Diego," says Dennis Probst, the Airport VP of Development. "We want to make it a good one."

The airport served a record 22 million passengers in 2017. They expect that number to grow to 28 million by 2035.  Getting all of those people to and from Lindbergh is a big part of the expansion.

Plans put forward by the airport call for a new three lane roadway connecting Harbor Drive to Lindbergh. It would start near Laurel Street and take people directly to the new terminal and proposed parking garage.

"No stop lights, no stop signs, free-flowing," says Probst. "It's gonna take about 45,000 cars a day off Harbor Drive."

But other San Diego agencies say the airport needs to think bigger and focus on different modes of transportation, instead of just cars.

"Connecting the airport to transit is something we've been talking about for a long, long time," says Rafael Castellanos, the Chair of the Port of San Diego. "If San Diego wants to be a world class city, we need to have world-class infrastructure."

The Port owns the land that the airport sits on. They've proposed a light rail-style people mover that would connect trolley stations nearby to the terminal.

Meanwhile, SANDAG and the County of San Diego released a study proposing a skyway with gondola rides that could run from the Convention Center to the Airport.

"I think the only obstacle is getting everyone to the table quickly," says Castellanos. "That's something that can be easily overcome."

The airport says they're willing to look at all options, but they can't take a stand or incorporate any into their current plans because they can only control what happens on airport property.

"The view from the airport's side is that we're not the region's transit planning agency," says Probst.

Funding is also an issue. The expansion project will only use FAA and airport-generated money. Because of that, FAA rules say they can only spend money to improve things at the airport or directly related to the airport. A tram or skyway that spans all of Harbor Drive would require an exception to that rule and would need money from other agencies as well.

Probst says the airport has already started talking to the FAA about that option. They got a similar exception to help with infrastructure improvements when the airport built the rental car center a few years back.

Right now, the airport is reviewing comments from their Environmental Impact Report. The next step is to put together environmental quality reports for the state and the federal government. Probst says the debate over transit is slowing down the process, to the point where he doesn't think they'll be able to start construction until after 2020.