Why San Diego airport's plan for $3B makeover has drawn an avalanche of criticism
2018-10-15 | San Diego Union-Tribune
The aging Terminal 1, the centerpiece of what will be the airport's single largest project, would more than triple in size; the gate count would grow from 19 to 30; and an elevated,
For anyone who has ever navigated the
So why then the almost universal chorus of boos coming from nearly every local public agency in the county, as well as nearby communities?
It is not so much the project itself that is drawing critiques from entities like the city of
Given the withering criticism, it's possible it could force a partial rewrite of the project's environmental impact report, in turn potentially delaying the Terminal 1 expansion, originally planned to start construction in 2020, with completion expected in 2023. (Improvements to Terminal 2, including a a new concourse of up to seven gates at the western end, are envisioned in later phases.)
"We are trying to understand the implications of all these comments and until we get our arms around that, we cannot give you a further answer about a timeline," said
While the airport's voluminous analysis covers everything from noise and climate change to water quality, it is traffic -- and how it is addressed -- that has the agencies fuming.
For example, while the report offers up potential ways to address expected congestion, like improved express bus and shuttle service and adding lanes to nearby roads like Hawthorn, Laurel and Grape streets, the
The net effect is that by 2026, traffic impacts would remain "significant and unavoidable" at three intersections, 10 roadways and 24 freeway segments. By 2035, that number would grow to 15 intersections, 18 roadway sections, and 27 freeway segments.
What especially irks several of the agencies who have written formal letters is the
It is a missing link that has bedeviled the
"How is it that most major airports can connect to transit and we're not even considering it?" asks Port Chairman
Other airports, he says, have embraced such rapid transit connections, including, most recently,
As part of a study the port undertook last year looking at ways of easing congestion on heavily trafficked
"The major concern among all the agencies who submitted letters is the airport's statement that the
San Diego Councilwoman
For its part, the
Funding for the Terminals 1 and 2 redevelopment comes from a variety of airport revenues, including landing fees, airline rents for terminal space, parking, concessions, and passenger facility charges.
"I would truly like to set the record straight. I have never said nor will I ever say we are not willing to participate," Becker said. "But there are absolutely regulations that require us to go through the
With the number of annual passengers is expected to soar from last year's 22 million to 28 million in 2035, Becker insists that it is not the Terminal 1 expansion that is driving that increased air traffic. Still, the airlines are banking on the redeveloped terminal to make air travel in and out of
According to the
"The biggest issue people don't understand is that more people are coming for these flights no matter what, so the airlines are in turn bringing in larger aircraft," Becker said. "So by having a more modern Terminal 1, it will make the customer experience much more efficient."
What seems to be overlooked, say airport officials, is their pledge to pay for a new two- and three-lane inbound roadway from
The governmental entities counter that the roadway alone is not enough to address the coming gridlock and fault the airport for prioritizing single-occupancy vehicles over transit. As an example, they point to plans for a 7,500-car parking garage.
And the transit solutions the airport does offer up, like converting an existing bus route to the airport to a "rapid"-style service or partnering with local operators to "consider" a transit line from the
While there is an existing airport shuttle that passengers at the
As much as some of the sharply worded critiques seem to portend a battle royale, more recent comments from the
"Bottom line is we are willing to do our part and we need the community partners to do their part to make sure the region's solutions are implemented," Becker said.
To be fair, many of the kinds of costly transit options the other agencies are advocating do not have funding, including a long-planned "intermodal transit center," a sort of grand central station north of the airport where trolleys, buses, Amtrak, and Coaster trains could all converge. While included in the region's long-range transportation, no funding has been identified.
Meanwhile, there is no firm cost for a people mover, although SANDAG estimates a price tag of
Congestion at LAX has become so overwhelming, the airport operator had no choice but to move forward with an elevated train, said airport spokesman
"LAX has nearly 90 million annual passengers and 6,000 cars during peak hours going through the terminal loop per hour to drop people off and pick people up," Waier said. "It's pretty obvious that there's a massive transportation challenge at LAX so we had to look at ways to reduce that congestion."
San Diego Port chairman Castellanos remains hopeful a region-wide consensus will soon be reached.
"I'm optimistic the airport will do the right thing," he said. "I think they're going to work with all of us. This shouldn't be an adversarial process."
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