An in-depth look at the stalled Parking Plaza
McKenna Aiello | Uptown News
Traveling through the San Diego International Airport might become a whole lot easier for globetrotters as the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously Wednesday, July 9 to revive construction of a three-story parking structure adjacent to Terminal 2.
The $80 million Parking Plaza is set take three years to complete and include approximately 3,000 parking spaces — downgraded from the original 2008 approved-proposal for a five-story structure housing 5,000 spaces.
In a presentation directed by the Airport Authority’s vice president of administration Jeffrey Woodson, the economy’s swift downturn in 2008 was blamed for the halt in airport operation growth. This, in turn, forestalled implementing the 2008 Airport Master Plan (AMP), a blueprint for the airport’s future that included plans for the parking structure as well as other airport operation entities needed by 2015.
Outlined in the AMP, 10 new gates, more efficient curbside check-in options and a dual-level roadway were made a reality with last year’s Green Build — the largest improvement project the airport has seen in its history. Officials say a majority of the AMP’s projects are now underway and will be fully accessible by 2022.
The $900 million Green Build did not include new parking options though, and a 2013 airport passenger satisfaction survey cited only 51 percent parking satisfaction in comparison to a 79 percent overall satisfaction in the airport’s other features.
These shortcomings prompted airport staff to enlist LeighFisher Associates to aid in a study reflecting the need for said parking structure.
In the 2013 study, the consulting firm found a need for 7,000 total spaces by 2035 and an immediate need for at least 3,000 spaces for Terminal 2 travelers. Terminal 2 currently has 1,400 surface-level parking spaces, a 1,600 space deficiency that the study said is causing much of the traffic congestion on North Harbor Drive leading into the terminal.
Although the 2008 Final Environmental Impact Report stated a 5,000-space parking structure would hardly make a dent in regards to traffic flow, the LeighFisher Associates study found the current proposed structure would reduce traffic by 140 to 320 trips per day.
As of now, North Harbor Drive remains the main access point to the parking structure via an already constructed expanded roadway loop. At the center of the loop would be the parking structure, and vehicles approaching the terminal area would be directed to the structure or to passenger pick-up and drop-off.
Officials say this will mitigate the need for vehicles to pass through curbside drop-offs before entering the parking structure and incentivize airport customers to utilize the parking structures instead of relying on family or friends to pick and drop them off, thus cutting down the number of round trips going in and out of the terminal.
The AMP is also examining the potential construction of an airport by-pass road that would eradicate all airport traffic from North Harbor Drive and the parking plaza, but for now any concrete plans for this project remain unseen until the structure opens.
The parking plaza will feature an aesthetically pleasing art component commissioned by local artists. It will also rely on “smart parking technology,” a feature that is said to reduce idle and circulating vehicles by enabling parkers to reserve and pay for spaces in advance.
Officials estimate that the cost of the structure will run somewhere between $80 to $88 million, and will present a net value ranging between $26.7 and $104.6 million depending if the structure will be financed through cash reserves or debts.
Although the plaza’s cost was included in the Board approved 2015 – 2019 Capital Program Budget, it was left without any substantial funding. But Officials say the Airport Authority now has enough funds to pay for the initial phase of constructing the structure, with room to eventually expand the structure to include 2,000 more spaces.
As for visual impact of the parking structure, concerns raised by the Final Environmental Impact Report anticipated the structure would be visible from 23 scenic sites in the surrounding area including the Point Loma Peninsula, downtown skyline and Spanish Landing Park.
But the study found that obstruction of these views coming from either direction would enact “low” to “medium” changes in visibility, with no significant impact on the view from Harbor Drive to the parking structure.
The June 2014 report also noted that construction of the Plaza would not exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards, but would exceed California Ambient Air Quality Standards for NOx, PM10 and PM2.5. According to the report, these violations are not of huge risk to the environment though, and an increase in these chemicals was already expected to occur with aircraft operations in the future.
Construction of the parking structure also plans to follow guidelines set by the Memorandum of Understanding, an initiative used by the Airport to set provisions for recycling construction waste, developing infrastructure to support alternative fuels and reducing water use.
The Authority has also partnered with Borrego Solar to build a 3.3 megawatt solar energy system on the rooftops of the Parking Plaza and Terminal 2 set to supply 10 to 13 percent of the energy needs for Terminal 1 and 2.
Spokespersons from the Port of San Diego and South County Economic Development Council both said the Airport Authority has gone to lengths to organize presentations to keep local entities apprised of the status of the project and ask for feedback.
Next on the agenda for airport staff is the preparation of project designs, and obtaining a California coastal development permit. Construction companies will then bid to take hold of the project, and building will commence.