Public transit options, including an underground people mover that would connect to a grand central station north of the airport, will be studied to determine which is the most workable and cost effective.
Over the next four to six weeks, transportation planners will be testing four proposals for bringing high-speed transit to the San Diego airport to determine which is the most cost effective, while also convenient for travelers.
Ultimately, the decision will likely come down to a choice between an extension of the San Diego Trolley or a people mover system that would originate from a yet to be built grand central station north of Lindbergh Field.
Elected leaders and transportation officials from around the county met Wednesday to review the four options, which have been designed with the goal of providing an easily accessible and speedy transit connection to the airport so that people from anywhere in the region would not have to make more than one transfer.
Three of the four options envision a people mover — either underground or largely street-level — that would connect with a central transit center. Two sites for a grand central station are proposed: a 72-acre Navy site known as SPAWAR and the Intermodal Transportation Center, a long-planned transit hub that would be located slightly closer to the airport.
A fourth option, an extension of the San Diego Trolley to the airport, would generally tie into the existing convention center station to the south and Old Town station on the north, with a stop at the Santa Fe Depot. Part of the route would take advantage of existing track between the convention center and the junction at Grape Street, as well as dedicated transit lanes along Harbor Drive.
“I’m happy to see the inclusion of the trolley,” said San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez, who has previously pushed to include the trolley as one of the studied options.
Paul Jablonski, CEO of the Metropolitan Transit System, noted that his agency also has been studying a slightly different trolley connection that would connect to the airport via Laurel Street and would require elevating the trolley track above the existing heavy rail tracks.
“We know it’s not easy but we’ve evaluated the constraints and we may be able to be overcome them,” Jablonski told members of the Airport Connectivity Subcommittee. “The value of that over a tunnel and all that cost is worth considering.”
Jablonski elaborated more after the meeting, explaining that a new trolley line would be created that would run from the Imperial and convention center stations through Santa Fe Depot, out to Laurel, into the airport and back out to the Old Town station, which he said would facilitate travel for Amtrak and Coaster riders.
In the short term, MTS is exploring the idea of a free shuttle bus that would operate between the airport and the Old Town transit center.
By the time the subcommittee meets again, either in late June or early July, members will be asked to recommend a single proposal that could be an amalgam of different components of the four options. That will depend on the outcome of the modeling study that will be conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments, with the help of a consultant. The recommendation would then go to the full SANDAG board.
SANDAG staff noted that each of the people mover proposals also contemplates some freeway connection improvements, as well as a reconfiguration of Laurel to make it the primary roadway for entering and exiting the airport. The people mover would also be designed as a free shuttle system.
“All of these four options are absolutely important to model to see the cost and what the ridership will be,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who for months has been pushing for a collaborative approach among local agencies. “So I’m looking forward to getting those numbers back and figuring out the right path to go forward ... I remain optimistic about that opportunity for a privatepubic partnership with SPAWAR. Locating transit there makes all the sense in the world.”
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said he hoped that the upcoming study will take into consideration how likely it will be for people to take transit to the airport in lieu of driving their own cars or using Uber or Lyft.
“Ridership on transit isn’t there now, so why would anyone use it as opposed to coming by car,” asked Desmond.
His question touches on a transit vs. highway debate that has been roiling the county in recent weeks as SANDAG leadership pushes for a long-range transportation plan that emphasizes the expansion of mass transit over roads.
“Yes, not a lot of people use transit today but that is because it doesn’t go where people want it to go, and it’s not fast enough,” said SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata. “But if you make transit convenient, people will use it. You can’t judge transit by what we have today.”
Still unknown is the potential cost of transit to the airport, which could likely be in the billions of dollars. The San Diego Regional Airport Authority already has committed to reserving space near Terminals 1 and 2 for a transit station as part of its plans to significantly expand Terminal 1.
MTS officials have pointed out that it already operates five bus rapid transit routes, three trolley lines and several local bus routes that stop within a block of Santa Fe Depot. From there, they say people can take the Route 992 bus that provides direct access to the airport’s two terminals.
Hasan, however, insists that existing airport transit options are not convenient and accessible enough to induce more travelers to use them.
Article by: San Diego Union Tribune
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