"It would transform the way travelers use our airport, reduce traffic congestion around [Lindbergh Field] and take advantage of the airport’s close proximity to Interstate 5 by providing access right into the airport.”
That was former mayor Jerry Sanders during a March 2009 city council hearing, describing “Destination Lindbergh,” the $6.3 billion plan to reconfigure Lindbergh Field.
The goal of the build-out of San Diego’s airport, said a report commissioned by the City of San Diego and San Diego Association of Governments, is to “minimize airport-related traffic impacts to adjacent communities, and improve intermodal access to the Airport, while considering the Airport as a potential location for a regional transportation hub.”
Preliminary plans include moving support facilities, air freight, passenger processing areas, and parking to the north side of Lindbergh Field on Pacific Highway. Reconfiguring the airport would connect the trolley and train to the airport via an automated walkway as well as provide direct access to drivers traveling on Interstate 5.
Elected officials, environmentalists, and mass-transit proponents celebrated the plan. But a group of residents near Old Town say the plan is incomplete and fails to address the congested interchange of Interstate 5 with Interstate 8.
They fear the city and San Diego Association of Governments are hiding plans to build a connector ramp from Pacific Highway to Interstate 8, running along Taylor Street and cutting through Old Town.
The two public entities have assumed control of the transit and transportation portions of the project. And although the agencies have not released specific plans for a connector ramp, Old Town denizens consider it inevitable. After all, they say, where else would the estimated four-million-plus vehicle increase per year on Pacific Highway near Old Town go?
“We have asked representatives from [San Diego Association of Governments] if they are planning such a Taylor Street connector ramp, but they will not confirm or deny it,” reads an April 10 draft letter from the Old Town Community Planning Group to the agency’s board of directors.
“Neither [San Diego Association of Governments], nor the City, have had public discussion about this regional transportation issue. Instead they appear to be hiding the connector ramp within the ‘the 2050 Circulation Plan’ and disguising its implementation as mitigations of unrelated projects.”
The ramp, according to the Old Town Community Planning Group, would shave off portions of Presidio Park and encroach on Old Town while at the same time directing additional traffic to the popular tourist attraction.
But poor transportation planning, or lack thereof, has been a complaint from residents for some time.
Thurston Coe, chair of the Old Town Community Planning Group, says that traffic and congestion around Old Town, especially the transit center should be addressed before any new projects, especially a reconfiguration of Interstate 5, occur. “[San Diego Association of Governments] doesn’t touch on Old Town. The agency has been evasive and I don’t know if they haven’t thought about it or they don’t want to let us know what their plan is,” says Coe during an April 19 interview.
“Something needs to be done. There’s already too much traffic funneling through Taylor Street. Just look at any home game; whether it’s the Padres or the Chargers, it’s a mess at those railroad and trolley crossings. Cars are parked in residential neighborhoods. My opinion is that it will only get worse.”
The worries from residents such as Coe prompted the community planning group to draft a formal letter to the regional planning agency and the city. “Over the last decade Old Town has experienced several community planning issues, each of which touch upon a common theme: regional circulation planning,” reads the letter. “To accommodate the increased traffic from the projected build-out, Destination Lindbergh incorporates expanded freeway access onto the North-South Interstate 5 freeway, but it does not incorporate capacity plans for its equally necessary expanded freeway access onto the East-West Interstate 8.”
If such a ramp goes in, community planners say, it would wipe out several of San Diego’s historical landmarks. “Major flaws with such a connector ramp include the destruction of the 1769 Birthplace of California and negative impacts to Presidio Park and the San Diego Presidio National Historic Monument.... Such a connector would destroy the site of Kosa’aay (Cosoy), the 1769 Kumeyaay village that saved the Portola expedition from starvation.”
To prevent this from occurring, planning-group members want the city to host public workshops before any environmental documents are drafted. But a spokesperson from San Diego Association of Governments denies any claim that the agency plans to build connector ramp near Old Town.
“There is no plan in Destination Lindbergh or in any related airport access planning to build a connector ramp through Old Town between Pacific Highway or [Interstate 5] to [Interstate 8],” wrote Helen Gao in an April 18 email. “To improve access to the airport and downtown, [San Diego Association of Governments] is studying potential ramps to and from the north between [Interstate 5] and Pacific Highway.”
Gao says the residents are jumping the gun by assuming that the airport will be reconfigured to face the north. The San Diego Airport Authority has not made the final decision. “Terminal One may stay on the south side adjacent to Harbor Drive.”
As for the busy freeway interchange, a number of improvements are already in the pipeline and are included in the “2050 Regional Transportation Plan” adopted back in 2011.