Aug 1, 2023 - Development

Officials eye Santa Fe Depot for airport transit connection

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 20: Aerial view of the San Diego International Airport on March 20, 2020 in San Diego, California.

San Diego International Airport. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Regional planners are getting closer to deciding how to extend transit service to the San Diego International Airport.

Driving the news: The San Diego Association of Governments is zeroing in on a plan to build an automated people mover — an electric, driverless tram operating on a fixed route — from the airport terminals to the Santa Fe Depot downtown.

Why it matters: Elected officials this fall will decide which of the proposed project concepts to pursue, bringing the nearly 40-year, transit-to-the-airport debate to a conclusion.

Zoom in: SANDAG studied seven project concepts, including:

  • Five automated people mover routes — two to stops north of the airport, three with both north and south routes;
  • Extending the existing trolley system to the airport;
  • Improved bus service.

Between the lines: The SANDAG board hasn't yet decided anything, but staffers seem ready.

  • "All indications based upon this study is that the south leg is probably the best option," said Coleen Clementson, a SANDAG deputy CEO, at a Friday board meeting.

By the numbers: The closest competition is a trolley extension west from Little Italy to the airport along Harbor Drive.

  • The south-leg people mover, without going underground, would cost up to $2 billion and serve nearly 20,000 riders a day.

The trolley extension would cost up to $1.7 billion and serve about 15,000 riders a day.

Flashback: A year ago, now-outgoing SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata and Mayor Todd Gloria touted a plan with both north and south connections that would eventually connect to a new "Grand Central Station."

What they're saying: "Airport transit is something that nearly every other big metropolitan area in the United States has done and we believe that it's the San Diego region's time to step up and join our peers," said San Diego Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, the board's vice chair.

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