Four alternatives move forward for Airport Metro Connector project — with more study of two other options

The Metro Board spent nearly two hours discussing which alternatives to study in the draft environmental study for the Airport Metro Connector project.

The bottom line:

•Four alternatives recommended by Metro staff (staff report) will go forward into the draft environmental impact study, the document required by law before anything gets built. Three of the four involve connecting the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line to a people mover outside LAX’s central terminal area and one alternative would connect to the people mover near the Theme building in the Central Terminal area. Here are the four:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

•The Board also voted 12 to 0 to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe that asks Metro staff to study two alternatives that would bring light rail directly into the terminal area near the Tom Bradley International Terminal (the motion is posted after the jump). Those alternatives are:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

•Metro expects to begin the draft environmental study in May when more is known about the development of the airport’s people mover. The Board directed staff to conduct further analysis on ridership, time savings and cost so that the Board could consider whether to include these alternatives in the draft environmental study. It remains unclear if a majority of the Board supports inclusion of these alternatives in the draft environmental study due to the cost and complexity of tunneling under the airport terminals, tarmac and/or runways.

The gist of the long conversation among the Board, Metro staff and Los Angeles World Airports staff involved narrowing down the alternatives for the best and most feasible way to connect the existing Green Line and the Crenshaw/LAX Line currently under construction to the airport.

LAX officials have long said that bringing Metro trains underground and directly into the central terminal area — i.e. also known as the terminal horseshoe — is fraught with problems. The big ones: the cost, the complicated nature and security issues involved with tunneling under airport facilities and the need to get passengers from train stations to nine different terminals from just one or two light rail stations.

Airport staff have proposed building a people mover — a type of rail system — that would connect with the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line. As a result, Metro and airport staff have worked together to pursue options that would connect light rail to the people mover at three possible locations that are east of the terminal area and one that is in the terminal area.

Metro can’t tunnel under the airport without LAX’s permission. And Metro staff said that the cost of building the light rail alone to the Tom Bradley International terminal area would cost more than $3 billion, not counting the additional cost of a people mover that still would be needed to get people from train stations to some of the terminals. The problem: Measure R presently has about $175 million remaining for the project, meaning more funding will be needed.

One option proposed by the airport would build an Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF) between 96th and 98th streets west of Airport Boulevard where light rail passengers could transfer to a people mover. (Airport officials also say passengers may one day be able to check luggage there). This is the option known as “LAX Connect.”

Something to keep in mind: all the alternatives would result in most passengers having to transfer from light rail to a people mover in order to reach their terminal. This is a typical arrangement at other large airports. The closest example: Those who take the BART train to San Francisco International Airport must transfer to the airport’s “Airtrain” to reach the terminals (map below). The same goes in New York, where the New York subway system and the Long Island Railroad connect to Kennedy Airport’s “Airtrain” that runs to the airport terminals.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Among the highlights of the conversation leading up to the vote:

•Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: “I believe, and I think all of us do, that this region deserves a world class airport. The recommendation from staff would eliminate the options with the most public support and the fastest travel times. It seems to me we have an opportunity here to avoid mistakes of the past and we should. We don’t want to spend millions of dollars and miss the mark again.” (The last sentence is a reference to the Green Line coming up short of LAX).

•Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: “We need to be very careful what we’re doing here. In the 1990s, this agency in terms of public confidence was in the toilet, we couldn’t raise a nickel from the public, there was no fiscal discipline, it didn’t matter if [projects] made sense or not. It took us 10 to15 years to restore public confidence and the public rewarded this agency by voting for a sales tax increase in 2008 with Measure R. The [four staff recommended options with the] automated people mover will get the most ridership and those are the options that we should be studying.”

•Supervisor Don Knabe: “I think to close out our options at this particular point is something we should not do. As long as we are trying to build a world-class facility, we should look at all the options…and then make the right choice.”

•Both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin said they were convinced the options that would take light rail directly into the LAX terminal area was not viable — and thus do not need to be studied as part of the draft environmental study. Garcetti said studying those options would only add to the cost of the draft environmental study, cost two billion dollars more to build and add five to six minutes in travel time on the train for those not going to LAX. “I don’t mind losing this vote,” Garcetti said. “I’m at the point where [alternatives] C3 and C4 aren’t worth pursuing.”

Bonin added: “I am supremely confident that the Board is absolutely determined to connect Metro to the airport, and kept alive and moved to the environmental process today  strongest most viable and passenger friendly alternative to do that — LAX Connect.”

One big question that will be studied: how will Crenshaw/LAX Line trains operate if a rail spur or bump is built to the west of Aviation Boulevard? If, for example, tracks are built to serve the airport’s ITF facility, Metro would need to decide if Crenshaw/LAX Line trains would serve both the ITF and the planned Aviation/Century station or just the ITF. Stay tuned.

photo (6)

photo (7)

26 replies

  1. It seems that alternatives A1 and A2 will be the cheapest to build. The other 2 alternatives will probable affect the running times of trains.

  2. Would the APM have a separate fare, like NY’s Airtrain ($5)? If so, any idea what percentage of operating costs that would cover? If it’s a fair chunk, might be enough to allay some of the airlines’ concerns.

  3. here’s another important question, how come the Crenshaw Line and LAX Connector weren’t studied and built at the same time? Why start construction on one project, only to have it delayed or changed at the last minute and add more cost to the other? Seems kinda of inefficient.

  4. After years of outrage over the Green Line, experience at other airports has shown that a people move connection works perfectly well. Build A1 or A2 and use the savings to expand the system elsewhere.

  5. Any rail connection to LAX is better than none at all (which is the case today). Whatever it takes to bring the Crenshaw/LAX and/or Green Line + peoplemover to Los Angeles International Airport I’m all for it.

  6. James F
    As currently desgned the Green Line would fallow it’s current route past the southern part of the airport and the as planned spur should go into the airport.

  7. I can’t understand how any option extending the LRT into the terminals has survived to this stage. It would be ridiculously expensive and would inconvenience everyone on the Crenshaw/Green lines who would be needlessly diverted to a station that they might not even use in their lifetime.

    The people mover from LAX out to the Crenshaw Line is the obvious and most realistic path to take.

  8. Assuming a people mover is built, someone traveling from DTLA to LAX will have to make 3 transfers to get to his terminal: Expo Line to Crenshaw Line to people mover. Someone traveling from the Hollywood area to LAX will have to make 4 transfers: Red Line to Expo Line to Crenshaw Line to people mover.

    Who exactly, beyond public transit advocates, will want to do that, especially when carting around heavy luggage? SuperShuttle will pick you up at your door and drop you off at your airport terminal for ~$15, only $10 more than a trip from DTLA to LAX would theoretically cost (assuming a day pass). (And yes, I realize $10 is $10, but anyone who can afford to fly can likely afford the $10.) With the SuperShuttle option, you also don’t have to bother with transfers or luggage.

    If public transportation is to truly compete with the private automobile, then the former needs to be more convenient; being cheaper is not reason enough to cause most people to make the switch. I’m all for the expansion of LA’s public transit network, but this current plan seems far from “world class…”

  9. Steve-
    If the People Mover is built, and like some of the commenters suggest, charges a usage fare on top of the usual Metro rates, would Metro collect that money or LAWA?

    • Hi Dr. M;

      I do not know. My understanding is at this point the airport will build and operate the people mover and Metro will build and operate the light rail side of things. At many airports, people movers are free — although there are certainly others that do charge. I’ll ask around but my guess it’s too early in the planning process to know.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. Consider Boston’s Logan Airport:
    The MBTA Blue Line (3rd rail subway from Airport to Bowdoin, surface under catenary from Airport to Wonderland) connects directly to the circulator bus at the Airport station, and connects to the Orange (subway) and Green (trolley) lines, and could be extended to also directly connect to the Red Line. Getting between Logan and, say, Copley Square is a fairly straightforward 2-seat (not including the airport circulator bus) ride. Sadly, though, without that proposed Blue/Red connection, getting between Logan and South Station is, in a word, nasty. (Back Bay Station, however, is not quite so bad, as it’s on the Orange Line, or you could walk across Copley Square from the Green Line.)

    Consider Washington DC’s Reagan Airport:
    The Metro Blue and Yellow Lines stop at a station that is right in front of the B and C terminals. Very easy. The Silver Line promises a similarly easy ride to Dulles.

    Sea-Tac:
    The Central Link provides a one-seat ride from downtown Seattle to the terminal parking structure at Sea-Tac.

    And by contrast, consider Dallas, TX:
    You want to get into either Dallas or Fort Worth, from DFW by rail? Fine. You take the circulator bus route that goes to long-term parking, then you connect to another shuttle bus that goes to the nearest Trinity Rail station (in a business park near the airport), and wait (often an hour or more!) for the next TRE train going your way.

    I think any or all of the proposals involving either a peoplemover or a circulator bus connecting with the line is good, but if you’re going into downtown, or especially if you have a rail connection at Union Station, you have WAY too many transfers.

  11. Whatever is done for LAX, make sure that it’s as far from what was implemented for SFO as possible. At first blush, a direct rail link into the airport would seem to make the most sense, but keep in mind that virtually everyone will need to transfer to the airport people mover. The BART situation at SFO works reasonably only for people coming from the north (ie downtown SF) but is a complete disaster for anyone coming from the south, and that includes eventual HSR passengers. The configuration reduces BART’s flexibility even for riders coming from the north who want to transfer to Caltrain to continue south because they must first go through the airport (BTW, the schematic provided by SFO is highly deceptive.) Contrast that with what BART is building at OAK, where the BART trains from the north or south meet the airport people mover – very similar to the “Aviation/Century Connection” alternative for LAX.

  12. As long as the People Mover is built with a stop at the Aviation/Century station the plan would work. The passengers should be able to step off the Light Rail line on the People mover without a block or two long walk.. Hopefully, LAWA can pass the cost of operating the perople Mover onto the Airlines who of course will pass the cost onto the public.

    Also, Metro should consider a future plan to connet the Crenshaw Line to the Expo Line so taverlers don’t have to transfer so many times to get to or from LAX.

    Is the Crenshaw line going to contine south on the Green Line tracks into the south bay when the Green Line is extended?

  13. Joe: where are you getting $15 for the supershuttle? On their website, from Hollywood, I show $27 one-way.

  14. The gold-standard of world-class airport transportation is the “one-seat ride” to the city. Few people need to get over to another terminal—they just want to get their bags and get the heck out of there. LAX just ain’t that big that it needs a “people mover” at all.

    Give me a central station at LAX, and I’m happy. My family and I can use our feet to get around the horseshoe (which is easy if you have a central station). Let’s save the money on this whacky “people mover” and start tunneling, as Minneapolis did.

    P.S. Has anyone ever been to LAX? What is this “people-mover” going to look like? Has anyone even seen renderings of this? Sounds like an engineering boondoggle that serves no purpose other than to get people to the rail line which should have been RIGHT HERE in the first place.

  15. The SFO diagram is misleading; first of all, the BART trains stop between International Terminal G and Garage G. If you’re headed for International Terminal G (primarily Star Alliance carriers), the head of the train is practically right there. Exit through the gates on the same level. Same for International Terminal A; just turn right as soon as you’re in the International Terminal.

    If you’re lucky enough to have a domestic United flight departing from Gates 72-75, and don’t need to check baggage, you can obtain a boarding pass in the International Terminal, and enter through the Terminal G security checkpoint; there’s a connecting passageway adjacent to the United Club. All other United domestic passengers can just walk to Terminal 3 (taking an escalator or elevator down). (It’s certainly no worse than getting between Terminals 6 and 7 at LAX.)

    For SFO Terminal 2 (American, Virgin America), or Terminal 1 (Delta, Southwest, etc.) exit toward the rear of the BART train, go up the escalator and take the AirTrain red line three or four stops. A complete circle around the entire inner loop takes about ten minutes, but the worst case trip is only about half that. PRE’s claim that “virtually everyone will need to transfer” simply isn’t the case at SFO.

    BART provides nonstop service between Millbrae and SFO in the early morning, nights, and weekends; at other times, passengers need to change trains at San Bruno. (BART collects the same $4.25 fare either way.) The Millbrae-SFO shuttle could be restored if demand picks up. Tracks that aren’t being used for revenue service are available for operator training; they’re not just gathering dust. This is hardly a “complete disaster.”

    What’s a better comparison for LAX? I’m thinking something like STL or PHL, minus the fare gouging.

  16. To John M:
    If I’m not terribly mistaken, LAX is a hub airport. People make connections there. And what difference does it make whether the airport end connects with a circulator bus, a circulator tram, or just has a station within walking distance of all terminals, if it’s still up to a 3-seat ride to/from downtown, including having to get between subway and surface platforms, with luggage, perhaps having to cross streets in the process?

    I have no doubt that a major reason why the Boston “T” is considering extending its Blue Line to connect directly to its Red Line at Charles/MGH is to drop Logan Airport/South Station runs from 3-seat to 2-seat (albeit at the cost of a very roundabout route).

    Somebody needs to work on reducing the number of transfers needed, if this is to be a viable replacement for the Flyaway Bus. Because if it doesn’t actually go downtown, who cares how close it gets you to the airport?

  17. After Crenshaw is running pressure will grow inexorably for reconfiguring the system to provide a one-seat ride between downtown and the LAX peoplemover. As with the Regional Connector, the utility of and need for the missing piece becomes painfully obvious.

  18. So much for the “world class” airport and quality transit connections. WHY are we afraid to “big and better” because it might be expensive or “difficult” ? How did the Golden Gate, Hoover Dam, the interstate highways, the aqueducts ever get build without vision and effort? We are being passed by other cities and countries in what they are building. The politicians, planners, bureaucrats have let us down again. Lots of tax money is being collected and the people voted with the expectation of something better. This is just so, so sad.
    A simple north south tunnel, from Imperial on the south to Lincoln on the north, with a stop in the CTA, would have provided links to all current and future transit lines- such as Green to Torrance or Green to Norwalk. On the north a line to Santa Monica up Lincoln and a 405 line to the SFV valley. The people mover then provides distribution throughout the airport complex and a connection to the Crenshaw line and the consolidated rental car center to the east.
    All 3 lines could be built one at a time as money arrives. Crenshaw is already started- let it be built as designed and planned to keep it on budget.
    Then build the APM. And then the final segment, the north south tunnel line.
    -We lack insight and planning for the future. This is off regional importance and everyone should benefit from this.

  19. @James Lampert : Of course, I agree with all your points. But I remain profoundly confused as to how LAWA has managed to hijack this process. (Hint: It isn’t really about safety.) Tunnel beneath, build a station and be done. Remove the cost of a useless people mover from the equation. Trams to move people from terminal to terminal work just fine—and remember: LAX is purpose-designed for that very thing.

    Yes, I am a gladly broken record–but without a one-seat-ride, ‘tis all for naught. Let’s finally give S. LA its much needed and deserved rail line (yet designed with an eye to the future). But let us skip the charade of “airport transportation” for the time being. Or… not. We could actually do it. However, compromise has never done much good for anyone when concrete is involved.

  20. Stupid stupid stupid. Just because no U.S. airport has done it right is no excuse for LAX to do it wrong.

    Forget tunneling, too expensive. Rip out those 1960s parking garages, they do not belong in the middle of an airport.

    Put the mass transit on the surface level. Parallel tracks: people mover next to Metro light rail. Bering every single green and Crenshaw train into the loop. One seat rides to the airport.

    Passenger cars have no god-given right to drive to within 500 yards of a gate. Put the parking garages and “meet/greet” stalls on the periphery, and end the mad max vehicle jockeying in the loop.

    This is an airport, not a shopping mall.

  21. “I have no doubt that a major reason why the Boston “T” is considering extending its Blue Line to connect directly to its Red Line at Charles/MGH is to drop Logan Airport/South Station runs from 3-seat to 2-seat (albeit at the cost of a very roundabout route).”

    The Boston Red-Blue connector would still make that a rather messy two-seat connection (it would not be quite the same connection as Blue-Orange/Green, but more like connecting at Kenmore between the branches of the Green Line).

    Moreover, Boston *already has* a 1-seat Logan/South Station run, it’s called the Silver Line and it’s currently free if you board at the airport end. It may not be nearly as sexy as rail, but the one-seat solution already exists here.

  22. Steve,

    A better comparison to what LAWA will be foisting on the travelling public is Phoenix Sky Harbor which has multiple terminals, which are not all connected together. Light Rail stops nearby, but not such that (IIRC) one can walk, and you take a people mover to the airport:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PHX_Sky_Train

    Until the People Mover opened, a shuttle bus was provided.

  23. The People Mover is not what Disneyland has/had, it’s going to be railcars. My question is how is a People Mover compatible with airport operation but not Light Rail?

  24. The “I don’t wanna drag heavy luggage around” complaint can be resolved easily.

    If you want to start your own business and become a potential entrepreneur, start a “drop off your luggage at our store and we’ll have it delivered to your airport” business.

    1. The person flying out of LAX drops off their luggage at a specific store the day before. Say like a 24 hour FedEx/Kinkos office or a 24 hour local pharmacy or something.

    2. He/she can then head over to LAX completely luggage free. No more dragging behind luggage through narrow corridors or up and down the stairs or escalators on transfer points.

    3. Upon arrival at the LAX train station, the person then picks up his/her luggage at a specified point at LAX.

    They do this at Florida because of all the cruise ship passengers and folks heading to Disney World there. Upon arrival at Miami or Orlando Airport, people drop off their luggage to these luggage courier services, they tell them which cruise ship they are on or which hotel they’re staying at near Disney World, and they get to their cruise ship or hotel completely luggage free. The same thing the other way around. They give their bags to the courier, tell them which airline they’re departing from, and they get to go to the airport luggage free.

    I’m pretty sure there’s similar luggage-to-airport courier businesses in other cities around the world too.

    If people don’t want to drag luggage around through transfers and heave their heavy belongings up and down the stairs, some entrepreneur can start their own luggage delivery business!