San Diego Airport Improvement

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Officials want to speed up San Diego airport improvements
The Escondido (CA) North County Times

SAN DIEGO — Airport authority board members urged their staff Monday to speed up a series of planning options to expand and improve Lindbergh Field, saying delays could lead to voter confusion in 2006. Board member Paul Peterson said that if the authority is actively voting to expand and improve Lindbergh Field in 2006, it could completely befuddle local voters if the agency also asks them to approve getting rid of Lindbergh to build a new regional airport at another site.

“(Voters) need to get a clear message as to what (our) intent is to Lindbergh Field and what our intent is with regard to any other possible solution we come up with,” Peterson said. “And that would be murky if you’re (expanding Lindbergh and urging a move) at the same time.”

The agency may have little choice in avoiding that confusion.

State legislators created the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in 2001 and charged it with these sometimes-contradictory tasks:

  • Run already overcrowded Lindbergh Field, and come up with plans to expand and improve its service before its single runway is overrun by ever-increasing air traffic within the next decade.
  • Determine whether Lindbergh should be replaced, and present voters with a preferred site for a new regional airport by 2006.

    To date, the authority’s search for a potential airport has centered on nine possibilities — eight new sites and a plan to aggressively expand Lindbergh.

    The eight sites are in Borrego Springs, Campo, an undetermined site in the Imperial County desert and five military bases that won’t be studied until next year: March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County; two sites at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego; Camp Pendleton; and North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado.

    But agency officials say Lindbergh must be expanded now — even if the authority ultimately decides Lindbergh should be closed and asks county voters to approve building a new airport.

    They said the improvements must be made because Lindbergh is already struggling to handle all its ever-increasing traffic and building a new airport will take an estimated 11 to 15 years if voters approve a move.

    Authority board members met for two hours Monday, acting as the agency’s strategic planning committee, to review an inch-thick update on “early, conceptual” plans to add new airplane taxiways, more airline gates, enhanced concessions, new parking and improved cargo facilities.

    Authority project manager Nick Johnson told board members Monday that staff had created four possible “conceptual” plans to expand Lindbergh in phases — ranging from a “minimal building” plan to more ambitious improvements.

    Johnson said the plans ranged in ambition to prevent the agency from spending huge amounts of money on improvements that it could ultimately abandon if voters recommend moving from Lindbergh.

    But Johnson and other staff members said they have not yet done enough studying to put cost estimates on the alternatives.

    Officials said moving the airport could be the only answer to fix all the air traffic problems at Lindbergh, which abuts Interstate 5 on its northeast and San Diego Bay to the south, and which is surrounded by businesses and homes.

    Lindbergh’s ability to expand to serve more flights is limited by its single runway. Officials said in November that adding a second runway would require demolishing thousands of buildings, rerouting I-5 and tearing down hillsides.

    Committee members were not asked to take any action regarding the presentation Monday.

    However, Peterson and others strongly urged their staff to pick up the improvement-planning pace when staff members said they did not expect the board to take a final action until April or May.

    Committee members asked their staff to return with more details that could allow the committee to take some actions in January.

    Johnson and other staff members said Lindbergh can slightly expand its number of terminal gates, add parking and expand cargo capabilities because it has acquired nearby acreage from Teledyne Ryan, the now-closed Naval Training Center and General Dynamics.