San Diego International Airport Reduces Congestion with New Rental Car Center
With over 1 million rentals each year, the car rental business at the San Diego International Airport generates a fair bit of revenue. Until this year, it also generated congestion along Harbor Drive where operators were housed in a number of locations. Then the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority decided to improve the flow of traffic, alleviate congestion associated with deliveries and with car rental operations and make a major investment in construction on the north end of the airport. The area had been a major Convair/General Dynamics facility for construction of military aircraft dating back to World War II, but that activity shut down by the 1990s and the land was left vacant.
A key part of this plan, a 2 million-square-foot, four level Rental Car Center. The building, which accommodates over 5,000 vehicles, has 103,500 square feet of customer service area, 1,040,400 square feet of ready/return and storage area, and 350,000 square feet of quick turn-around area. The building currently hosts 14 car companies, and has facilities for five more. There is also a 7,600-square-foot shell space that was built for a potential restaurant tenant.
The project started with development of all the infrastructure of roads, water supply and electrical utilities. One of these roads carries passengers to and from terminals in 25 airport operated alternative-fuel shuttles, which replace the 81 shuttles formerly run by the rental car companies. The project also provided improvements to the adjacent Pacific Highway, which included landscaping and new street lighting, curb and gutters.
Along the way, the airport implemented a number of firsts with regard to its construction methods and techniques.
This started with the contracting model, in which the authority opted to use Construction Manager at Risk, a delivery method which entails a commitment by the Construction Manager to deliver the project within a guaranteed maximum price based on the construction documents and specifications.
Bob Bolton, Director of Airport Design and Construction, says the process allowed the airport to maintain more oversight over the design process than under alternative methods such as design-build. At the same time, it also allowed the construction contractor to provide input, get industry pricing from subcontractors and apply their knowledge of best practices on this type of project.
Financing was based on the guaranteed maximum price, with bonds to be repaid through a customer facility charge. The financing also drove the timeline for the project, which needed to begin generating revenue by a date certain.
Selected as the contractor was Austin-Sundt, a joint venture between Austin Commercial and Sundt Construction, Inc. Bolton noted that both firms have extensive concrete experience, with Austin having completed a number of rental car centers, and Sundt having done many parking structures, and also has strong presence in San Diego.
Design was by Demattei-Wong Architecture. The project also employed Parsons Brinckerhoff and Simon Wong Engineering (since acquired by Kleinfelder) for structural engineering.
Constructing Above a Fault Line
Before ground was broken on the project, some underground factors needed to be handled. Surveying revealed that the planned location of the center was directly above an active fault line. This led to a shift in siting and some other adjustments to the structural design. Additionally, the heritage of the site, as reclaimed wetland built with bay fill, called for extra stabilization in the form of 50 to 60-foot pilings.
To install these, all 2,830 of them, the contractors used auger cast displacement piles. This was also a first for the airport, Bolton said, and had the distinct advantage of being less noisy than the use of pile drivers, eliminating the need for notifications and time restrictions on the work.
The timeline was challenging, with ground broken in October 2013, and a scheduled January 2016 opening.
First there was the process of placing a mere 23 million pounds of rebar and 110,000 cubic yards of concrete.
Helpful in the construction process was the use of tower cranes. This was a first for San Diego International Airport, said Bolton, "We used four of them to fly material around the site." And although they were not actually in the airport's flight path, they were high enough to require approval from the FAA. "We worked 20 hours a day with the help of tower cranes," Bolton said, "It made it easier and safer to move formwork and steel."
Also helpful was the expertise of the contractors. "We had the A-team working on this," Bolton said. He said that whereas 40,000 square feet per week would be considered a good pace on a project of this scale, "they were doing 60,000 feet per week for several weeks in a row."
Additional Challenging Features
There were also some challenging features of the building facilities, such as the multi-level fueling. With stations on three levels, the center can fuel 72 vehicles at once. This requires three 2,500-gallon underground tanks, appropriately lined and contained, and piping with containment, secondary controls and monitors for spills and fumes, with constant monitoring and a safety switch-off.
With 18 car washes in the center and California's demanding water conservation standards, the project also entailed extensive systems for cleaning and reusing water.
"With all of this, there was a very elaborate commissioning process to test and verify all the systems of the center before opening," said Bolton.
All of this testing took place between the substantial completion of construction in October 2015 and the opening in January when the center immediately entered into full operation. "Once it is ready, everything happens overnight," said Bolton.
In addition to the improvements it has made to operations, airport officials are also proud of the environmental and community benefits of the project. The car rental center was designed to meet requirements for a Silver LEED certification, and Bolton believes it is on a solid track for at least that. Some of the major factors are the energy and water conservation measures and outputs. The concrete itself made use of local materials, and fly ash, a coal combustion product that was reclaimed from steel production. According to proponents such as Headwaters Resources, a service provider in the industry, fly ash as a replacement for Portland cement produces concrete that is stronger and more durable than traditional concrete.
The airport also notes with pride that the project generated about 4,600 construction jobs. Of the $316 million project value, about $186 million in construction contracts went to local businesses, with small business receiving $70.4 million of that total.