One of the ongoing projects that we’ve been following closely is the Airport Metro Connector, which seeks to connect the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with the growing Metro Rail network. This is obviously a project of great interest given that LAX is the third busiest airport in the United States and many other airports in the U.S. and abroad are connected to local rail systems.
A new Metro staff report released today (above) recommends that one alternative for the project be studied more intensively: building a new rail station near Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street to serve trains along the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines. The station would also be the “gateway” transfer point to an Automated People Mover that would take people to the airport terminals. The people mover would be built by LAX.
Metro will evaluate the light rail part of this alternative — i.e., the new rail station — in the project’s upcoming environmental clearance document. The planners at LAX would study the Automated People Mover.
The new Metro Rail station would be about .4 miles north of the future Aviation/Century station that will also serve both the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines. The idea, according to the Metro staff report, is that the 96th Street Station would be the gateway for passengers headed to LAX while the Aviation/Century station would connect riders to the many businesses along the Century Boulevard corridor.
A new analysis by Metro staff also found that this alternative would deliver about the same number of riders to LAX as running a light rail line directly to the airport terminals. The analysis also found that the recommended alternative would get people to the terminals in about the same amount of time, cost far less to build and could be built sooner, with a completion date perhaps as early as 2022, depending on when LAWA builds the people mover.
The preferred alternative was developed in close cooperation with planners and officials at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city of Los Angeles agency that oversees the airport.
Over the past several years, LAWA has been finalizing details on its current modernization plan, which includes the people mover, a new ground transportation hub (known as the Intermodal Transportation Facility or ITF) and a consolidated rental car facility. LAWA’s current plans are to build the people mover just north of 96th Street en route to the Crenshaw/LAX corridor. Here is the link to the latest LAWA presentation on their ground transportation program.
The people mover would also include a station at the ITF to be built by LAWA on the northwest corner of 98th Street and Airport Boulevard. That facility would serve as a pick-up and drop-off point for airport passengers and, according to LAX, would allow passengers to check in for flights and check their baggage. LAX is studying whether to build two or four people mover stations to serve the airport terminals.
The public policy question hovering over the Airport Metro project over the past few years has been how to best connect the existing Green Line and future Crenshaw/LAX Line to the airport?
Other cities have also wrestled with trying to determine whether it’s best to build a rail line directly into airports or instead build a special airport train that connects airport terminals with the local transit system. The latter approach is the one used at Phoenix Sky Harbor, Miami International, JFK in New York and Oakland International Airport.
LAX poses particular challenges with seven terminals spread out along a horseshoe shaped road with runways and tarmacs on all sides of the horseshoe. That means that running light rail into the airport requires lengthy and expensive train tunnels as well as a limited number of stations and longer trips for riders not bound for the airport. The Metro Board of Directors formally eliminated those options from further consideration in January.
Some other interesting factoids from the new Metro staff report:
•A Metro Rail-people mover connection resulted in about the same ridership as having a light rail line run directly into the airport terminals, according to Metro’s ridership forecasts. In the future, it’s expected that about 57 percent of airport bound passengers would arrive by private car, 33 percent by shuttles, taxis and limos, eight percent by the Flyaway bus and one to two percent via transit buses and trains. Keep in mind that about 66.6 million passengers used LAX in 2013, meaning even small percentages can add up to a lot of people.
•Building rail into the terminal area could be three times as expensive with a cost of $4.9 billion to $5.2 billion compared to connecting the people mover to light rail at 96th and Aviation (alternative A2).
•The chart below shows the average walk times involved in using Metro Rail and the people mover to reach airport terminals — assuming LAX builds two people mover stations to serve the terminals.
•Here’s the operating plan for the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Green Line with a station at 96th/Aviation along with the future Aviation/Century station that is being built as part of the Crenshaw/LAX Line project:
•Building a light-rail spur line from the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line into the airport could have had serious operational impacts for Metro Rail. The big problem: it would have involved longer and less frequent trips for many Metro Rail passengers not headed to airport or near-airport destinations.
•In order to reach the furthest airport terminal, Metro staff estimates that it would take 32.2 minutes from the Crenshaw/Expo station on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, 31.4 minutes from the Green Line’s Redondo Beach station and 50.7 minutes from the Green Line’s Norwalk station.
•As the report says, if LAWA decides not to support Metro’s staff recommended alternative, Metro then would work with LAWA staff on a transfer to the people mover at the Aviation/Century station.
•Also from the study and worth noting: Metro and LAWA have yet to discuss “funding assignments” for the project between the two agencies. LAWA still must make final decisions on the airport’s Ground Transportation Program, which includes the people mover.
The Metro Board is scheduled to consider the Metro staff recommendation at their Planning Committee meeting at 2:30 p.m. on June 18 and Construction Committee meeting at 10:15 a.m. on June 19. Both meetings will be held in the Board Room at Metro Headquarters adjacent to Union Station and, as always, are open to the public. The full Board of Directors are scheduled to take up the issue at their meeting at 9:30 a.m. on June 26 at Metro HQ.