Saturday, February 25, 2006 | Shifting five miles of Interstate 15 more than a mile-and-a-half inland. Digging a 3-mile tunnel with a complex baggage- and passenger-moving system beneath San Diego Bay. Rebuilding the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 76.
Each major undertaking would be part of a plan to build a joint-use airport at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Air Station North Island or Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, according to concepts released yesterday by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
As the authority draws closer to choosing an option to put on November’s ballot, it has for the first time pinpointed where airports would be built on local military bases. The authority’s planning committee will review the concepts Monday morning. Detailed analyses examining costs, transportation access and environmental impacts are due in early April.
Here’s a look at the newly released details of what is (and isn’t) being considered:
– East Miramar: An airport on the eastern half of the Marine base won’t work, said Gregory R. Wellman, vice president of Ricondo & Associates, the authority’s Chicago-based technical consultant. The hilly terrain is one problem, he said. Aircraft approaching the site wouldn’t be able to descend easily, he said, because of mountains to the east. The consultants considered four concepts there, each putting the airport someplace different. All four failed, he said. The authority’s nine-member board will have the ultimate say here.
– Miramar: A joint-use airport adjacent to Miramar’s existing runways would work, Wellman said. Two 12,000-foot runways – separated by a terminal – would be built parallel on the south side of the Marine base’s existing runways. This option would replace Lindbergh Field. One obvious cost: Both new runways would overlap Interstate 15 near its intersection with Highway 163. Wellman said about five miles of the Interstate 15 would need to be shifted east. The reason: The runways can’t be built atop the nearby landfill.
The concept is still skeletal. The authority’s consultants are unsure how the military would be impacted. Wellman could not say whether the Marines, who are opposed to any proposal, would see any benefits. One obvious complication: Marine pilots practice about 10,000 aircraft carrier landings at Miramar. The concept addresses that by proposing to shift those landings to the southernmost runway, which would accommodate civilian flights the rest of the time.
– North Island. A joint-use airport here would supplement Lindbergh Field. A 3-mile underground tunnel would connect the two. Passengers would check in at Lindbergh, and hop into some type of underground transit – a train, perhaps – eliminating any traffic impacts in Coronado. Air traffic would be split 50-50 between the two sites in this scenario. A new runway would be built at North Island, and an existing runway would be extended 4,000 feet – partially jutting out into the ocean on a pier. Most takeoffs and landings would fly over the ocean, to minimize noise. But when winds wouldn’t allow it – about 35 to 40 days a year – flights would follow the current paths from Lindbergh.
* Camp Pendleton. A massive bombing range in the base’s center presented problems here, Wellman said. That left one viable option: two parallel runways along the base’s southern edge, close to the Highway 76 and Interstate 5 interchange. Access would come from Highway 76, with no other civilian access to the base. Several holes of an on-base golf course would be relocated. The option, which would replace Lindbergh Field, would be complicated by the diversity of environmentally sensitive species living throughout the site.
* “An out-of-the-box idea.” That’s what Wellman calls for an embryonic fourth option. It would build a military-only runway at Camp Pendleton, allowing some Miramar aircraft to shift north. A new runway and terminal combined with an existing runway at Miramar would accommodate all of San Diego’s commercial air traffic.
The military has seen all of the concepts – and panned them. Three authority board members shared them in a meeting last week with B.J. Penn, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. Yesterday, Penn’s boss – Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter – said none of the ideas would work.
“While I recognize the San Diego region faces difficult planning and economic decisions regarding future aviation growth,” Winter wrote in a letter responding to U.S. Rep. Susan A. Davis, D-San Diego, “I must tell you that national defense requirements preclude making any portion of any of these installations available for a new or dual use commercial airport.”
In other words, no chance.
Authority board member Mary Teresa Sessom said the letter was clear. The authority, she said, should be focused on researching practical options.
“We’re wasting a hell of a lot of time studying stuff that isn’t going to help this region,” Sessom said, “and the region needs to be able to move ahead. It can’t as long as we are spinning our wheels. … How much louder do they need to yell this at us?”
Several Miramar neighbors were happy to hear the eastern portion of the base won’t work – a sentiment many have voiced throughout the process. Eric Germain, president of the Tierrasanta Community Council, said he doesn’t believe concerns about shared airspace have been resolved.
Even if they have, he said, “I didn’t move to Tierrasanta to live next to an airport.”
Brandon Waters, spokesman for Assemblyman George Plescia, R-Mira Mesa, called the Miramar joint-use concept “the stupidest idea anyone has ever conceived.”
“If the airport authority wants to create a situation where they are doomed for failure,” Waters said, “they are on track.”
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