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Transit Problems Around the Airport Aren't Going to Solve Themselves

San Diego’s quality of life is being threatened by our inability to plan for long-term growth. It’s time to come together and find real solutions to traffic, transit and sea-level rise. 

San Diego International Airport / Photo by Dustin Michelson

When I moved to San Diego from Los Angeles almost 15 years ago, I did so looking for a better quality of life. I was fed up with L.A.’s traffic, congestion, air quality and other negatives. Getting in and out of LAX was a particular hassle that increased my anxiety at the very thought of flying.

San Diego has proven to be an amazing and convenient place to live. But San Diego’s continuing success as a booming metropolitan area has brought with it many urban challenges that are now affecting our quality of life.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryOne of those challenges is accommodating the growth of San Diego International Airport. What started as a muddy airfield in 1928 has transformed into a major international airport that serves 22 million passengers a year and is the nation’s busiest single-runway commercial airport.

Today, the airport is projecting millions of additional passengers. This growth, of great economic benefit to our region, also creates problems that require community stakeholders to come together and solve. The growth of the airport and the region has brought persistent transit and environmental challenges that negatively affect the airport and surrounding areas. A long-needed mass transit connection to the airport has never materialized and impending sea-level rise must be addressed. But perhaps the most noticeable concern to residents, local businesses and visitors is the resulting traffic congestion.

Local governments, environmental groups, businesses and residents agree that steps must be taken to address these problems. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill, AB 3119, is a positive and collaborative first step to improving transit options and reducing traffic congestion created by the rapid growth of our region. This deserves our support.

The bill brings together seven major stakeholders, including the Port of San Diego, San Diego Association of Governments, Airport Authority, Metropolitan Transit Development Board, North San Diego County Transit Development Board, the city of San Diego and San Diego County, into the San Diego International Airport Mobility and Sustainability Committee.

This committee will be required to create by 2020 a real plan to solve the traffic and transportation problems on and around Harbor Drive, including how to extend transit to the airport. The committee must also provide recommendations on how to best protect the airport from sea-level rise.

The Port’s transportation and planning expertise will be incredibly important in guiding the proposed committee’s resolution of the growing traffic snarls on Harbor, Laurel, Hawthorne and Grape streets. We have already started planning a study of Harbor Drive south of the Convention Center to examine how best to move people and goods through the working waterfront.

The south study will consider all forms of transportation used by residents, visitors and businesses in the area — foot, bicycle, car, bus, cargo truck, light rail, cargo rail and vessel. The goal is to identify potential improvement projects, large and small, that could be implemented by the Port or other jurisdictions as funding becomes available. The same level of effort should be focused on Harbor Drive north of the Convention Center.

Any discussion of traffic must include transit. Why haven’t we been able to connect the trolley to the airport? Extensive transit planning must take place not only to better serve our region’s residents and visitors, but also to reduce vehicle miles traveled, a key strategy identified to meet California’s steep greenhouse gas reduction goals. Following Los Angeles’ announcement of a light rail connection to the airport, San Diego will find itself as the only major California metro without a light rail connection to its airport.

While solving the airport’s traffic issues can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. During the recent planning for a major expansion of the Tenth Avenue marine cargo terminal, the Port sought community input early and often, and successfully produced an environmental impact report that earned the support of business, labor, environmentalists and surrounding neighborhoods.

The Port’s mission is to create economic vitality and our efforts, combined with those of its partner organizations, have reaped great rewards and helped our region prosper. The Port is committed with its partners to tackle the challenges of traffic, transit and sea-level rise. Our once-tiny airport is now a bustling international hub that, with proper planning, will remain an active and integral part of our region’s tapestry for decades to come.

Rafael Castellanos is chairman of the Port of San Diego. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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