San Diego Business Journal

Now that airport officials have a configuration for the future of Lindbergh Field, they can turn their attention to a long-delayed series of improvements estimated to cost $876 million , up 25 percent from $700 million in 2008 and 35 percent from 2007.

And that's without a five-story parking garage.

Bryan Enarson, vice president of development for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, said while the price tag may sound exorbitant, "in the world of airports and airport construction, it's right in there."

It's the single biggest project at Lindbergh ever, nearly four times the $224 million spent in the mid-1990s on a variety of projects, including the addition of nine gates to Terminal 2.

For the upcoming project, officials plan to add 10 gates to Terminal 2, or the West Terminal, create an overnight parking apron for jets and build an elevated roadway connecting to the airport's second level.

The latter would not only ease congestion on Harbor Drive, but expedite passenger processing using ticket kiosks.

The pending project has nothing to do with Destination Lindbergh, the most recent investigation into a complete makeover that would have relocated terminals north of the runway, complete with passenger processing center, mass transit hub, rental car facilities and garage.

That recommended plan would keep terminals on the south side of the runway. To the north along Pacific Coast Highway, it calls for building a mass transit hub connecting the San Diego Trolley, car rental center, parking garage and passenger processing area.

Once passengers were processed, they would be transported to gates on the south side using either a shuttle or people mover that would run underground or around the runway.

Report Accepted

At its March 23 meeting, members of the Airport Authority, the board that manages Lindbergh, accepted the report from an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives of eight public agencies, including the city of San Diego and the San Diego Association of Governments, or Sandag.

The board took no action on new concepts, but simply affirmed that Lindbergh Field will be the region's airport for the future.

"We have a path, but there are many decisions on the way to go forward," said Chairman Alan Bersin. "There will be a lot of debate on which of the parts of the plan are actually implemented."

There was little debate on new design concepts at the most recent meeting, but two board members voted against even accepting the $4 million consultant study, saying many elements made no sense, especially given its excessive costs and complexity for passengers.

Bob Watkins said he couldn't support the recommended concept, even though the vote was simply to accept the report.

"We know it's not going to fly, so why should we do it in the first place?" he said.

If all elements of the recommended design were implemented, the estimated cost would be $6.3 billion, which doesn't include land acquisition and environmental clean-up expenses.

The new design wouldn't increase Lindbergh's capacity, but could increase the number of passengers using mass transit by 4 percent above the 9 percent that now arrive or depart through mass transit or shared rides, according to the study.

The hearing before the 6-2 vote to receive the report included comments from three airline representatives who criticized the designs as unwieldy. They would force an increase in fees tacked onto plane tickets.

$50 Per Ticket Fee

Steven Holt, corporate real estate executive for American Airlines, said in a letter to the board that due to the increased annual debt and operating expenses from a redesigned airport, passenger fees would likely increase to more than $50 from $6.50 per ticket, making Lindbergh one of the most expensive airports in the country.

"This increased cost, together with the increased hassle and time needed to navigate the airport, undoubtedly would cause many San Diego County residents to prefer the longer drive to LAX (Los Angeles International) or John Wayne Airport," Holt wrote.

On April 2, the Airport Authority is expected to award two major contracts, including 10 new gates and apron, for which the recommended prime contractor is New York City-based Turner Construction Co. The other contract for the elevated roadway and other connecting road improvements is recommended to be awarded to the regional office of Kiewit.

As part of an agreement with the city and Sandag, a proposed five-story, 3,700-space parking garage was excluded from terminal improvements at this time. However, it could be added later, Enarson said.

The first phase of the $900 million project would cover cost verification and initial design work during the next 150 days for $25 million.

After that, the project managers intend to develop more solid cost estimates and request more money as the project unfolds, Enarson said.

The majority of the financing for the project will be done through a bond issuance. Construction is slated to be completed by 2013.