In the mid-1980s, the owner of the travel center obtained permission from the city and the Federal Aviation Administration to build it--a decision bitterly opposed by the San Diego Unified Port District, which operates Lindbergh Field.
Port authorities have since launched plans to improve Lindbergh, which they say is necessary with or without a move to Miramar.
Their Airport Ad Hoc Committee recently voted to recommend spending $57 million for roadway improvements, such as double-decking the arrival and departure lanes near the airport entrance in a design modeled after the San Francisco airport. Those changes would come on top of $71 million allocated for expanding its West Terminal from 11 passenger gates to 19; enlarging and relocating its outdated fuel facility, and widening access roads.
Lindbergh, considered by even its staunchest advocates to be too small to accommodate the future aviation needs of the nation's sixth-largest city, has seen its annual passenger load double in the past decade to 12 million.
But slow-growth advocates who fear the cost of a new airport say removing the Laurel Travel Center and expanding Lindbergh would be the most reasonable alternative. They add that the impending closure of the adjacent Naval Training Center makes expansion more feasible.
In recent weeks, the bid for Miramar, led by developer Doug Manchester, has won the backing of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and its publisher, Helen Copley. Its editorials have cited growing concerns over the noise generated by Marine helicopters at Miramar, even quoting a study that claims the noise from newer Stage-3 commercial aircraft would be far more preferable.
For years, pro-Miramar forces faced opposition from the posh communities of La Jolla and Del Mar, over whose neighborhoods commercial jets would be taking off if Miramar became an international airport.
But Copley, one of the city's most powerful business people and a longtime La Jolla resident, recently gave $50,000 to Manchester's group.
Dan Pegg, president of the San Diego Economic Development Corp., said the glaring omission in the airport debate is that no study has examined the long-term economic benefits of a new airport or the cost of converting Miramar from military to civilian use.
Two are now under way, by the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Assn. of Governments.