Feb 21, 2024 - News

San Diego airport transit system: Update

An empty drop off area at a San Diego airport terminal

The public transit project would bring riders directly to the airport. Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

San Diego's yearslong pursuit of a new transit connection to the airport is taking another turn.

State of play: The San Diego Association of Governments is set to discuss on Friday its plan to spend two more years studying how to connect the region's rail system to the airport.

Why it matters: The airport-transit connection is a major selling point of a November ballot measure to raise sales taxes for county transportation projects.

  • By launching a new study, regional planners are again reconsidering their preferred way to make the project happen at the same time voters will consider approving a way to pay for it.

Flashback: Regional planners said in July that a $2 billion automated people mover — a driverless train on a fixed track — from Santa Fe Depot was the best option, based on a 92-page study that also considered extending the trolley to the airport directly and other options.

  • Elected officials were expected to greenlight an environmental review of the project last fall, a major step for it to be ready to go once funding is available.

What they're saying: The project should still complete required state and federal environmental reviews in three years — the same timeline the agency had already envisioned, Coleen Clementson, SANDAG's interim CEO, told Axios.

  • That's because the agency would now handle both environmental reviews simultaneously, rather than consecutively, she said.
  • The new study would analyze fewer options and be based on current data, a requirement to receive any federal funds for the project, Clementson said.

Yes, but: That means the agency could shift from its preference for the automated people mover — after it had finally zeroed in on that option.

  • "At this point, we have to consider all of the options and do a thorough analysis," she said.

The intrigue: SANDAG's change in course comes not two months after the departure of Hasan Ikhrata, the agency's executive who touted the importance of a massive transit hub for the regional transit system that would also connect to the airport.

Details: The absence of an airport stop on the trolley system has vexed San Diegans for years.

Following criticism, the airport reversed its plans and eventually secured $500 million from airlines that operate out of Terminal 1 to make way for a transit connection and road improvements.

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