Commentary – – As San Diego evolved from a sleepy Navy town into a big city with tourism, its major industry, its waterfront airport, became woefully inadequate.
With a single and relatively short runway, Lindbergh Field cannot handle larger, transoceanic jets. But even if it could, its jam-packed terminals can’t adequately process current passengers. The airport has maxed out at just under 17 million passengers a year and can’t tolerate any more planes or bodies.
San Diego’s civic leaders have been seeking a solution to their dilemma for decades without success. San Diego and its surrounding countryside are very hilly, and the Navy and Marine Corps occupy the best local locations for a new airport but refuse to part with them.
One alternative, which San Diego has explored, is building a larger airport 115 miles to the east near El Centro and connecting it with the city via a high-speed train of some kind – no small feat because the virtually unpopulated territory it would have to traverse is ruggedly mountainous.
But 115 miles to the north via Interstate 15 lies an airport that is large, modern and withering for lack of passenger traffic.
Ontario International is owned by the city of Los Angeles. During the 1990s as the Inland Empire boomed, it underwent modernization, with two large terminals and plans for two more.
The region, however, was hard-hit by recession, and Ontario’s traffic fell to just 4.3 million passengers in 2012. A study says it could be half that in a few years. Local officials who believe Los Angeles is neglecting Ontario have begun a campaign to acquire the facility.
Interstate 15 connects the two airports, and linking them with a high-speed train along the freeway route would be much easier and less expensive than either connecting San Diego with El Centro or building an entirely new airport somewhere else. It would be a logical use of high-speed rail, unlike the dubious bullet train that state officials are pushing.
It would make all the sense in the world to merge the two airports into one operational unit, giving San Diego better access to international travelers and giving Ontario and environs some badly needed business.