SFO seeks ways to forestall expected traffic crush

Almost 100 million people may be traveling through San Francisco International Airport each year by 2025, and if something isn’t done to make room for that load, the airport and its runways will gridlock like Highway 101 at rush hour.

“We have a congestion problem in many areas of the country, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception to that,” said Federal Aviation Administration Associate Administrator for Airports Kirk Shaffer.

To head off that increase, Shaffer presented SFO and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with $585,000 to begin studying ways to reduce the forecasted gridlock and move passengers through Bay Area airports more efficiently. If not done by 2015 — when Shaffer says 1 billion passengers will fly through the United States annually — overcrowding will strike airports along both coasts.

Because local airports don’t have room to grow, possible solutions may include a stronger emphasis on alternative transportation including BART, Caltrain and proposed high-speed rail, and a heavier reliance on small regional airports such as San Carlos Airport.

“Each of the Bay Area’s major airports is hemmed in by the Bay or urban development,” MTC Executive Director Steve Hemminger said. “We’re trying to use our available assets as a system, not as two dozen separate airfields.”

The Regional Airport Planning Committee — set up by the MTC, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — will handle the primary study.

In addition to the almost $600,000 grant, the FAA gave SFO $24 million to resurface runways and lighting systems.

The congestion is already being felt by some travelers, but so far it has not made its way onto the actual runway. Business traveler S. Sarkar said that the new international terminal streamlined travel, but he regularly experiences “bottlenecks” in the screening, immigration and rental car areas.

Sarkar said he travels through the Bay Area as often as five times a year, primarily from India. He said he has been lucky enough to make it from plane to highway in 45 minutes in the past, it can also take up to two hours when crowds get thick.  

Bay Area airports: Traffic explosion

The Bay Area’s major airports are expected to see more travelers in the next two decades as the population increases.

Airport » Annual passengers » Increase by 2025

San Francisco International » 60 million » 60%

Oakland International » 14.4 million » 80%

San Jose/Norman Y. Mineta » 10.6 million » 100%

Sources: San Francisco International Airport, Oakland Airport and San Jose Norman Y. Mineta International Airport

jgoldman@examiner.com

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