San Diego Business Journal

For most of its life, the commute to and from San Diego's Lindbergh Field hasn't been too bad, but as passenger counts rise and traffic increases on an already congested Harbor Drive, those days may be numbered.

Last week, two agencies charged with exploring long-range solutions to airport transit needs met to discuss what each can do to address the issue.

"This board has listened to and looked at a lot of different options over the past year," said Bob Watkins, vice chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. "The idea (behind the meeting with the Metropolitan Transit System) is to continue this dialogue."

The meeting of the two boards on March 27 covered the airport authority's improvement plan for the short term, and a long-term visionary plan for Lindbergh Field.

Both plans include building a mass transit center to deliver passengers directly to the airport. Today, the airport is served by a bus that stops downtown, and connects with the San Diego Trolley and Amtrak and Coaster station on Broadway.

Airport authority planners say one option is to build a transit hub on the north side of the runway, connecting terminals on the south side of the runway with shuttle buses.

Utilitarian Structure

Planners view the hub as a utilitarian structure to serve bus, trolley and Coaster passengers, as well as providing for car rental agencies.

Some others, including former state Sen. Steve Peace who now works for John Moores (owner of the San Diego Padres), have sought a far more elaborate vision for the hub, which might be built on the east side of the Pacific Highway.

Peace also advocates relocating Lindbergh's passenger terminals from the south to the north of the field.

Keith Wilschetz, director of airport planning, said the transit hub has been planned for the north side for several years, but the exact location has yet still to be determined. There is no design, nor cost estimate for the structure.

Watkins said one reason for meeting with MTS' board is to figure out what its long-term plans are, and how these might be integrated into what the airport is doing to maximize Lindbergh's lone runway.

Among the questions Watkins is posing is when MTS will consider building a spur trolley line directly to the airport, and the cost.

Watkins said the airport cannot finance the hub, and is talking with other agencies, including the Port of San Diego, the San Diego Association of Governments, the state Department of Transportation, and the city of San Diego, to fund it.

In the meantime, the airport authority continues working on an improvement plan for Lindbergh to handle existing and expected passenger use through 2015.

The plan's main elements are expanding Terminal 2 (the terminal on the west) by 10 gates; building a 3,700-space parking garage with a raised roadway; and constructing an overnight parking area for jets.

The cost is estimated at $700 million.