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Airport Questions Answered

Thursday, April 20, 2006 | The airport authority is drawing closer to its self-imposed May deadline to pick a solution to the region’s airport capacity needs. The $13-million search has entered its final months, and nine sites remain – as do some major decisions. Voters will have their say on Election Day, Nov. 7.

Why is an airport solution being sought?

It’s required by law. Assembly Bill 93 not only established the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in Jan. 2003, it also established its mission. The authority isn’t tasked to replace Lindbergh Field, but to address its capacity issues and “take actions to provide for an economy that will create sufficient opportunity and wealth to ensure a high quality of life for all its residents.” Last year, 17.3 million passengers flew in and out of the sole runway at Lindbergh Field, which sits on 661 acres in Point Loma. It was a 6-percent jump in passenger traffic from 2004. The airport had nearly 10 million more passengers than the nation’s next busiest one-runway airport in Fort Myers, Fla. Airport authority officials cite those figures in explaining the search’s reasons. The authority could choose to expand Lindbergh or move the airport to one of eight other sites under consideration.

What’s the problem at Lindbergh?

The airport authority frequently points to an economic impact study completed in 2000, when the authority was run by the Unified Port of San Diego. It projects the region could lose $30 billion to $94 billion by 2030 if air capacity demands aren’t met. Those numbers have been questioned by the chairman of the economics department at the University of California, San Diego, but the authority stands by its study.

Who’s making the decision?

The airport authority’s nine-member appointed board, by majority vote. Its three-member executive committee members – Joe W. Craver, Xema Jacobson and William D. Lynch – are full-time, paid employees. (Lynch doesn’t accept the $149,160 annual salary, which is tied to the salary of San Diego County superior court judges.) The remaining six positions are appointed by elected officials around the county. They are: San Diego City Councilman Tony Young, Vista Mayor Morris Vance, Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Teresa Sessom, Paul A. Peterson, Robert L. Maxwell and Paul G. Nieto.

Is this going to be a yes-or-no vote?

That hasn’t been decided yet. Craver, the authority’s chairman, has said it will be. Other board members have said they’d like to give voters two or more options to choose from. If the authority chooses one military site and voters have a yes-or-no vote, choosing yes would theoretically move the airport to the chosen site; voting no would keep it at Lindbergh Field. The ballot language is due to the county registrar by Aug. 11, although the county Board of Supervisors must first approve it.

What’s happening in the short term?

The airport authority’s strategic planning committee meets Monday, with members discussing the recently released study of every site’s marketability and accessibility. The report cites Miramar as the strongest option, from a marketing perspective, because of its proximity to businesses, tourist destinations and the county’s population center. It includes demand projections for air passengers and their average travel times to each potential airport. The report says choosing Camp Pendleton would make it one of the world’s farthest airports from its nearby city center. That could be a big factor in determining whether it stays on the list. Board member William D. Lynch has questioned whether Camp Pendleton is too far from the county’s population center – near Miramar at the intersection of Interstate 15 and Highway 52. The committee will also discuss how a recent study of magnetic levitation train ridership could impact average travel times to the Imperial County site, projected at between 82 and 94 minutes.

When do we find out how much it will cost to build airports at the military bases being considered?

May 12. That’s the day the airport authority will release all of its technical analyses. They will detail costs of building shared-use civilian-military airports at three military bases – Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Air Station North Island and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. You’ll find out then how much the airport and related environmental mitigation will cost. The analyses will detail noise impacts on local residents and the number of homes that would have to be relocated.

How much money does the authority have left to study specific airport designs?

Ricondo & Associates, the authority’s Chicago-based technical consultant, spent $8,029,054.45 through February, said Diana Lucero, an authority spokeswoman. The company has a maximum $13.5 million contract.

How much would expanding Lindbergh Field cost?

A $500 million master plan to expand Lindbergh to meet current demand is currently being developed regardless of what voters decide in November. It will add 10 gates by 2015. The authority has just begun talking about developing Plan B – what to do if voters reject a site other than Lindbergh in November. Nothing formal has been studied, though. The master plan will go through its environmental review process this year.

What sites are still under consideration?

Nine sites remain in total.

Four are military sites: Camp Pendleton, North Island and two at Miramar. One of the Miramar options has been ruled out by Ricondo, the authority’s consulting team, because of the nearby mountains and complications they would cause for planes landing. But the airport authority hasn’t formally eliminated it. The North Island site has been questioned because of the effect that Santa Ana winds would have on airplane takeoffs and landings. It’s the only site under consideration that would work as a supplementary airport to Lindbergh Field, with a four-mile tunnel beneath San Diego Bay connecting the two sites.

Two are desert sites: Boulevard and Imperial County. They’re the only two sites to have detailed costs completed: $16.7 billion to build at Boulevard; $17.4 billion to build in Imperial County. Neither total includes possible billions in environmental mitigation. Neither site is close – Boulevard is 69 miles away from central San Diego, Imperial County is 104 miles. Supporters of the desert sites say a magnetic levitation train that has been discussed and studied could cut the travel time significantly.

Two are inactive sites: Borrego Springs and March Air Force Base are still technically under consideration, but neither is being studied in-depth. They’ve essentially been ruled out, but the authority board hasn’t officially taken that step and nothing’s eliminated until they say it is.

And then there’s Lindbergh Field.

Do you have questions you want answered about the airport site selection process? Send them to Rob Davis directly at

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