Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Agency set to consider airport expansion and alternate sites
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
The regional airport agency is inching closer to key decisions on the future of Lindbergh Field and a parallel effort to identify the best site to augment or replace it. By May, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board will have a chance to select an option for adding 10 gates at Lindbergh Field, planners said Monday.
Also in May, the board will decide whether to drop one or more of the nine sites being considered to meet the region’s future air needs. The cut would be based on findings about travel time to remote sites and how that would affect the public’s willingness to use the facility.
The board’s Strategic Planning Committee, briefed on both issues Monday, added a month to the schedule for trimming the list of airport sites.
Instead of being forwarded next month to the full board of directors, as staff members suggested, the issue of accessibility and travel time will be discussed one more time by the advisory committee. Then the strategic planning committee will vote on the matter before moving it to the full board in May.
The advisory panel in February recommended dropping a proposed airport location near Borrego Springs from further consideration. An analysis said only 40 percent to 50 percent of air travelers would be willing to make the drive, which is up to 2 hours and 11 minutes away for some county residents.
The advisory panel was evenly divided on whether to drop a site in the Imperial County desert, where slightly shorter travel times are projected.
At the time, some panel members asked why the analysis didn’t consider access by high-speed rail, which could cut travel time to either location to a half hour.
A preliminary answer came back Monday. Joseph Huy, head of a consulting team on the project, told the planning committee a rail line probably would draw only 10 percent to 15 percent of airport users, depending on where the boarding station was.
Gregory Wellman, also on the consulting team, noted a trend in airport construction over the past few decades to place facilities farther from population centers.
“Most airports are locating more than 30 miles from (their) central business districts,” he said.
Even so, the Borrego Springs and Imperial County options would suffer in comparison with other airports. Among 27 U.S. airports studied, average travel time is 60 minutes or less for 84 percent of the population they serve.
The analysis touches on only two other options under review: one in the East County community of Boulevard and the possible expansion of the current airport site. Five military installations, including Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and North Island Naval Air Station, won’t be studied until a federal review on military base closures is completed.
The short-term future of Lindbergh Field also is under review as the board ponders options for maximizing its capacity.
Airport officials want to upgrade Lindbergh even if it ultimately is replaced. Increased air travel means the single-runway airport could experience runway congestion as early as 2015, consultants said last year.
Both plans would add 10 gates in a first phase, with room for more later.
Under one plan, most of the gates would go on the western side of Terminal 2, with a few more built east of Terminal 1. Under the other, all the new gates would be built along a concourse east of Terminal 1.
The cost of the two options will be presented to the board in April, and the full board will be able to select a concept to send along for environmental review by May. State and federal review probably would extend to mid-2006.