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:
•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:
•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.
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.