By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer
North County Times
SAN DIEGO ---- Freeway ramps that drop air travelers directly onto Lindbergh Field from Interstate 5 and a transit station that lets people take trains or express buses to their planes could emerge as top priorities for the regional airport board.
Freeway and transit connections could become the central features of a new regional transportation center on Lindbergh's north side, several San Diego County Regional Airport Authority officials suggested Tuesday during an annual board retreat. There, members said, customers could park cars in a large new parking garage and hop on a train that would circle Lindbergh and drop them off at their respective terminals.
"We could whiz everybody around on a Walt Disney monorail," said board member Bob Watkins of Alpine, who represents unincorporated county areas on the nine-member body.
And if the Marine Corps Recruit Depot north of the 661-acre airport were to become available through a military decision to close the Marines' West Coast boot camp, it could house a new terminal, airport board members said. At the same time, members stressed they weren't launching a campaign to obtain the property.
The comments came during a daylong meeting at Lindbergh designed to bring new members up to speed on airport business. Seven of the eight board members have been seated in the last two months. One seat is unfilled.
The meeting also offered opportunity to brainstorm ideas for meeting the county's long-term aviation needs, in the wake of November's resounding defeat of a measure to move the airport to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
No decisions were made.
However, members were united in their desire to put behind them the recent four-year site search that culminated in naming Miramar the preferred location for a new international airport and to focus on polishing Lindbergh.
"The voters of this county told us, 'This is it. This is your airport. Make the best of it,' " said board member and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond.
The freeway and transit connections emerged from an afternoon discussion, in which the six attending board members were divided into teams of three and were asked by a moderator to "think outside the box" as they suggested ideas for improving Lindbergh.
Harry Mathis, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit System board, which operates the San Diego Trolley light rail system, welcomed a discussion of potential train and bus connections.
Speaking during a public comment period, Mathis said, "We want the same thing that you want with the airport, and that is a seamless face with public transportation. My only request is that you include us on the ground floor of the planning."
As the board plans, said board Chairman Alan Bersin of San Diego, it must make sure the proposed $600 million expansion on the airport's south side won't interfere with the vision for a north-side transportation center. He was referring to plans to add 10 gates to Terminal 2 and construct a parking garage that will add 3,100 parking spaces by 2010. Some airport critics say the expansion could foreclose options for building a rail center or a second runway on the north side. It has long been suggested that Lindbergh's ability to meet long-term demand is handicapped because it has only one runway.
"This is going to be a very important exploration for us because it is going to set the tone for how we work," Bersin said.
Bryan Enarson, vice president of development, said Lindbergh has 300 daily flights, 21 airlines and 41 terminal gates. He said the airport will need 10 additional gates by 2015 and 21 by 2030 to keep pace with growth, which has reached 17 million passengers a year.
While board members supported expanding terminals and tying the airport more directly to highways and rail, no board member suggested adding a second runway at Lindbergh.
Instead, said Watkins, the region should develop an aviation system anchored by Lindbergh and reinforced by other county airports to accommodate future growth, and work with other Southern California counties instead of planning in isolation.
-- Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (760) 740-5442 or email@example.com.
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