Agency proposes new goals for airport; Officials say it's time to act at Lindbergh Field

Too small? Too noisy? Too congested?

Too bad.

As voters made clear last year by rejecting a ballot measure to possibly build a commercial airport at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Lindbergh Field will remain the region's main airfield -- headaches and all.

Now the local airport agency wants to jump-start efforts to improve and perhaps radically revamp the Harbor Drive facility.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board on Thursday will consider adopting a set of goals to guide Lindbergh's development through 2030.

Released in draft form last week, the goals are thick with bureaucratic language about the need to balance "ground access ingress and egress" and foster "positive cost-benefit relationships."

Board Chairman Alan Bersin and others say the goals underscore a broader point: that the long-running debate over the fate of San Diego International Airport is over.

Lindbergh has a fresh lease on life.

"Our job is to end the San Diego airport controversy, this 40-year endless debate," Bersin advised several of his board colleagues in a meeting last week. "We have to stop the talk and start the work ... "

Or, as Bersin prefers to put it, "We're building a new airport -- at Lindbergh Field."

Over the next few years, that could mean adding 10 boarding gates in Lindbergh's Terminal 2, along with building a four-story parking garage nearby.

Airport planners, anticipating a steady increase in airline traffic, say they need to carve out more space for planes to taxi and park.

Those are among the proposals in an updated master plan in the works for Lindbergh. The projected price tag for the improvements is $650 million.

An environmental impact report on the plan is expected to be released this month. Community groups, government agencies and residents will have several months to respond to the report before it goes to the board for approval.

The master plan maps out Lindbergh's development through 2015, when as many as 22.8 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport each year, up from 17.4 million last year.

Beyond 2015, Lindbergh's layout may be in for a revamp.

There is a growing appetite among board members to move many passenger services from along Harbor Drive to the northeast side of the single-runway airport.

Lindbergh officials are looking into building a transit hub on what are now parking lots near Pacific Highway and Washington Street. The major car rental lots might be relocated from Harbor Drive to airport land on the north side. The hub might include a trolley stop and links to nearby Interstate 5. Shuttle buses could run between the hub and the airline terminals to the south.

"What we are trying to do is get people to the airport faster and in a more convenient way," board member Ramona Finnila said.

Agency planners say the hub would ease congestion on Harbor Drive, the waterfront thoroughfare that is often choked with taxis, shuttle buses and other tourist-related traffic. The road has also become a main artery for those living in nearby Liberty Station, the former home of the Naval Training Center.

Some civic figures, including the man behind the creation of the airport authority, want the agency to think even bigger.

In a recent appearance before the board, former state Sen. Steve Peace advocated the relocation of all commercial airline gates to Lindbergh's northeast side.

Peace said he believes a new terminal should be built between the east-west runway and I-5, and housed inside a five-story air and ground transportation center.

The idea is part of an ambitious waterfront renewal plan being touted by Peace and county Supervisor Ron Roberts. Roberts is a former architect. Peace is a senior adviser with JMI Inc., an investment firm founded by Padres owner John Moores.

Peace wrote the state legislation that spurred the creation of the airport authority in 2003. The agency took control of Lindbergh from the San Diego Unified Port District.

Peace advised board members to make a "dramatic statement" about Lindbergh's future.

But Bersin, the former U.S. attorney and San Diego schools chief, and others on the board are skittish about taking on anything as sweeping as the Peace-Roberts proposal. They worry about being drawn into a broader debate over the future of the waterfront at a time when they need to press ahead with improvements at Lindbergh.

"We don't want to engage in a battle," Finnila said. "We want to proceed with our plan."

The board members will consider adopting several goals this week to steer them forward. The board will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in the agency office at Lindbergh.

These goals, or "guiding principles," include improving vehicle access to the airport and working with Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transit System and other agencies to develop a transit hub.

Robert Watkins, an executive member of the board, said a transit center would likely require the acquisition of land and right of way outside Lindbergh's borders.

He is eager to move ahead with improvements to Lindbergh, saying space for airplanes and passengers remains tight.

Finnila wants to push ahead, too, even if some San Diegans hold out hope that the airport will be moved.

"People think there are options out there, and there are not," she said.


Background: San Diegans have debated the fate of Lindbergh Field for decades, with many arguing it should be moved. Airport officials say the debate ended when voters last fall rejected a measure to try to move the commercial airfield to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

What's changing: The region's airport agency is poised this week to jump-start efforts to improve Lindbergh and possibly radically revamp its layout.

The future: Airport officials want to add more terminal gates, parking and improve the taxiway by 2015. Many passenger services, including links to ground transportation, may be moved to the airport's northeast side.