New San Diego Airport Search

Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Accessibility first hurdle for airport sites
By GIG CONAUGHTON
The North County (CA) Times

SAN DIEGO —- The agency in charge of finding the best place for a new regional San Diego airport voted unanimously Monday to limit their latest search criteria to just one question —- can people get to it? Having already narrowed their search of potential new airport sites from 32 to nine over the last three years, board members of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority voted Monday to conduct a “first cut” shakedown of the remaining sites by accessibility.

Officials said accessibility would be judged by how far the sites are from the county’s population cores, and by how congested roads and traffic corridors leading to them are.

Authority board member William Lynch predicted that weighing the current list of sites by how difficult they would be to get to for most San Diego County residents would cut the list “in half or better —- and will do so at a very minimal cost.”

With Lindbergh Field’s only runway expected to be too small to handle ever-increasing air traffic in less than a decade, the authority is trying to find a spot to recommend for a new, or expanded, airport, to county voters by 2006.

Authority officials said staff members would use existing San Diego Association of Governments data to rank the accessibility of the site locations and let board members narrow the list when they meet in February.

Angela Shafer Payne, the authority’s vice president of strategic planning, said that list would then be subjected to a “second cut” of more stringent —- and more expensive —- criteria, including aeronautical, environmental and financial standards.

Shafer-Payne said the first-cut studies could be done for $10,000 to $15,000 per site. As recently as last year, authority officials estimated the final studies could cost as much as $1 million per site. They now say they do not know how much final studies will cost.

Shafer-Payne said Monday that staff members proposed their “first-cut” criteria after listening to board members talk about the airport search at a two-day board workshop last month.

She said there was a lot of discussion about increasing need for air travel for business and cargo, because industry in San Diego County was moving from heavy manufacturing to high technology and more businesses were flying employees around the world to do business.

“The consensus was that travel time to and from any airport was a critical factor in the site selection process,” Shafer-Payne said.

Lynch, meanwhile, said narrowing the search by accessibility could quickly, and cheaply, eliminate a number of potential sites.

“We will be able to see an in-depth analysis of just how impossible some of these locations are,” he said.

Some of the remaining nine sites in the hunt for a new airport are far away from the county’s population cores, including sites in Borrego Springs, Campo, and an undetermined site in the desert of Imperial County.

The rest of the sites on the current list include a plan to expand the existing Lindbergh Field, and five sites at military bases: March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County; two sites at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego; Camp Pendleton; North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado.

Authority officials, however, said Monday that they would not apply the first-cut criteria studies to the five military bases.

The authority’s search and study process is being funded mainly by a $5 million federal grant. And the authority has promised federal officials that it will not study any of the military sites until Congress has finished its latest round of hearings to determine possible base closings across the country.

“This board has agreed to a policy that we are not going to study the military bases until … the Department of Defense issues their list for closure,” board chairman Joe Craver said. “We assume that will be in March, maybe in April, maybe in May. But the deciding factor will be when the Department of Defense issues their list. I want to make that very, very clear.”

Authority officials said the first-cut study would also not be conducted on a site the board is still in the process of deciding whether to add to its current list, the Corte Madera Valley site in the Cleveland National Forest, about 45 miles east of San Diego.

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