San Diego airport plans to build a public transit station near Terminal 1

Travelers use the Terminal 1 Skybridge, at San Diego International Airport. There are plans to eventually replace Terminal 1 with a brand new terminal that will have 11 additional gates.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego airport officials, criticized for not including public transportation connections in their $3 billion redevelopment plan, say they will now make room for — and fund — a transit station near Terminal 1.

The proposal, likely to mollify multiple public agencies who last year had lambasted the airport for the omission, will have the effect of delaying for one year plans to significantly expand and modernize the aging Terminal 1. Construction to more than triple the size of the terminal, originally expected to get under way next year, now would not start until 2021.

The San Diego Regional Airport Authority, which had released a lengthy environmental analysis of the project last year, said Friday it now must rewrite significant portions of the required document, including changes to passenger forecasts, plans for a smaller parking garage, possible roadway improvements and the addition of the transit station.

“Our public partners are about to engage in their own efforts for transit connections, so we tried to look at what is possible,” said Denny Probst, the Airport Authority’s vice president of development. “So our approach is to look at the potential candidate options for how transit might get to the airport and develop some ideas where we think we can bring a station into a location in the new Terminal 1 complex.

“We’ve looked at a fixed guideway system like rail or a people mover. We think we’re covering the array of options that might come forward. We’re not trying to define the connection once you leave the airport. That’s not the airport’s responsibility. We’re trying to do enough work to make sure we haven’t precluded any of the options our regional partners might bring forward. But we would build the station to connect (public transportation) into the terminal complex on airport property.”

It’s unknown at this time what the cost of a transit station would be because it would depend on whether it’s a trolley or monorail or express buses that would be the ultimate transit solution, Probst said.

The Airport Authority would not only fund the on-airport portion of the transit system, but it would also work with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine how much it could potentially contribute toward the cost of the off-airport portion of the system.

The move to address public transit at Lindbergh Field comes as the San Diego Association of Governments is leading an effort to develop a grand central station on Naval Base Point Loma, Old Town Complex,(commonly known as the SPAWAR property). Envisioned as part of that plan would be some type of people mover system to get people to and from the airport.

Probst said airport officials will present options for a proposed transit station Tuesday at a meeting of the recently formed Airport Connectivity Subcommittee, which includes representatives of SANDAG, the city, the county, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and the airport. He said that while it could be years before an actual direct transit connection to the airport could be implemented, that would not delay the Terminal 1 project.

“We won’t have all this transportation and transit stuff finalized but the EIR will state we are accommodating all these opportunities,” Probst said. “We believe the other agencies will be comfortable with us moving ahead with the new Terminal 1. In every meeting we’ve had with them, the consistent word is that the region should not wait for a new Terminal 1, and they recognize how bad conditions are and the need to get it replaced.”

Meanwhile, the airport subcommittee — originally pulled together by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — is moving full speed ahead on conceptual plans for a people mover system that would provide a link between a grand central station, no matter where that is eventually located, and the airport’s two terminals, said SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.

While recognizing that such a project will likely cost billions of dollars, Ikhrata is still hopeful that implementation of the transit system could get under way as early as next year.

“We wrote the letter opposing the EIR (last year), and everyone was criticizing everybody,” he said. “There is no time for that anymore. This has been studied to death. We either put up or shut up. We are ready once and for all to put forth a people mover to connect to a transit hub so that everyone in San Diego County should be able to get to the airport with one transfer.”

Beyond making room at the airport for a transit station, a number of other significant changes will be made in the airport’s environmental impact report, which was first released last summer.

The forecast of future passenger volumes, for example, will be updated from an earlier 2012 study to reflect actual traffic in 2018 when there were 24 million passengers served by the airport compared to 22 million a year earlier.

“Over the last two or three years, we’ve seen significant growth that was higher than the percentage growth anticipated in the forecast, and the criticism was that the actual numbers we were recording at the airport were higher than what the passenger forecast was saying in the EIR,” Probst explained.

A change will also be made to an originally planned 7,500-car parking garage that some critics said was evidence of the Airport Authority prioritizing single-occupancy vehicles over transit.

Now the airport is looking at significantly reducing the garage to 5,500 cars, which will result in a net gain of 650 spaces once 4,000 existing spaces are removed, Probst said.

The hope is to release a revised environmental document by late spring, with the goal of securing approval by the Airport Authority board by the end of this year.

Plans for the Terminal 1 redo call for constructing an entirely new building to replace the existing 19 gates and subsequently demolishing the existing terminal and adding 11 more gates.That second phase would be completed in 2026. In an effort to improve traffic conditions on Harbor Drive, an elevated, three-lane roadway would be built to quickly whisk motorists into the airport.

What was not included in the project, though, was a new roadway to ease traffic for those leaving the airport. Probst said that the plan is to preserve the right of way to do three outbound lanes parallel to the planned inbound road, but he added that “until there’s somewhere else for that traffic to go eastbound, we can’t implement the eastbound lanes out of the airport because they would slam into the westbound lanes coming from Harbor Drive at Laurel.”

Funding for the Terminal 1 project comes from a variety of airport revenues, including landing fees, airline rents for terminal space, parking, concessions, and passenger facility charges. The airlines that use the terminal, including Southwest Airlines, have been pressing the airport for some time to upgrade and expand Terminal 1 following the major overhaul of Terminal 2 west.

“The airlines aren’t happy about (the delay) but understand where we are,” Probst said. “But their view of the world is they still want us to deliver this as quickly as we can.”

The redevelopment plan, the airport’s largest ever, also calls for improvements to Terminal 2 east. Probst said the Airport Authority is currently contemplating whether Terminal 2 east would be replaced, as originally contemplated, or remodeled.


(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg