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San Diego Planners Move Ahead on Study of New Airport Connection Options

Options to connect transit riders to the San Diego airport include a "grand central station" served by an automated "people mover" train. (San Diego Association of Governments)

Regional planners this week agreed to formally study four options aimed at connecting travelers to San Diego International Airport, a decision that moves forward proposals that include a $4 billion "grand central station" linked to the facility via a high-tech underground "people mover" train.

San Diego Association of Governments' Airport Connectivity Subcommittee voted Wednesday to officially examine the concepts for environmental, security and other impacts after a presentation from the group's staff. The SANDAG executive board is expected to vote on funding the further study, designed to give transit riders long-sought access to the airport from downtown, on Friday.

"This region deserves and needs a state of the art connection to the airport," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments. "And that connection should lead to economic development."

A final concept selection is expected to be made within the next six to nine months. Ikhrata said the selection needs to be made by mid-2020, because it will have impacts on larger planning underway for the San Diego region’s transportation system. Projects near the airport in turn have implications for real estate development.

The regional planning agency has allocated approximately $1 million to develop and analyze concepts over the past eight months. But Ikhrata said a single concept could not be selected immediately, because all the proposals need to be more deeply vetted for traffic, environmental, security and regulatory impacts and receive input from the public and other entities.

For instance, federal aviation authorities want to have a say on any tunnels built under the airport to accommodate a people-mover train, and they must also sign off on any new construction that takes place under existing jetliner flight paths, officials said.

Ikhrata said any of the options would be an improvement from the current transit system, which gives transit riders no direct access to the airport from downtown stations located several blocks away. Officials said most of the options would also help reduce vehicle congestion near airport terminals.

If a new central station gets built, it is expected to be part of a proposed redevelopment of the U.S. Navy’s aging tech-research office complex in San Diego’s Old Town neighborhood, known formally as Naval Information Warfare Systems Command. The Navy recently signed an agreement with local officials, calling for a potential redevelopment of the 70-acre site that could include office, retail and residential elements.

Regional officials have informally favored the concept calling for a central station combined with an automated light-rail people mover over other options, and that concept is also backed by the local building industry. Murtaza Baxamusa, director of planning and development for the San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council, told the SANDAG committee that the concept could create 50,000 construction jobs while boosting local transit ridership.

Preliminary estimates from SANDAG staff indicate that a central station combined with a non-stop, one-mile underground people mover would cost somewhere between $3.9 billion and $4.7 billion.

The other options include a 3.6-mile elevated train with stops in the downtown area for an estimated cost between $3.8 billion and $4.6 billion; an above-ground train linking a new transit center with the airport’s existing rental car center running between $3 billion and $3.6 billion; and an extension of the current light-rail San Diego Trolley to link the new transit center to the airport for about $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion.

Article by CoStar | Lou Hirsh | September 26, 2019

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