Three influential Westside legislators are seeking to reconfigure a plan for light rail to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that failed last year in its original form.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance and State Senator Jenny Oropeza of Redondo Beach have put their support behind an extension to the airport of the Metro Green Line, which currently travels from Norwalk to El Segundo and Redondo Beach.
Last year, Lieu sponsored Assembly Bill 889 that would have established a joint powers authority for the Green Line that would function as the lead agency in charge of hiring contractors and overseeing the construction of the proposed extension. The bill passed several legislative committees before it was tabled in the Appropriations Committee of the Assembly.
This year, Oropeza is sponsoring the bill with Lieu as her co-sponsor. Senate Bill (SB) 1722 would feature essentially the same measures that Lieu’s bill sought, and would extend the light rail line close to the airport.
“These bills run in a two-year cycle and the same author cannot introduce the same bill,” Lieu explained. “This time, Senator Oropeza is sponsoring the bill in the Senate and I am the co-sponsor.”
Westside transportation advocates are also playing a role in trying to shape the configuration of Metro’s potential light rail path to the airport.
“We owe Senator Oropeza, Assemblyman Ted Lieu, Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, Supervisor Don Knabe and Representative Jane Harman a big thank-you for their continued persistence in trying to fast-track this long-overdue rail connection,” said Ken Alpern, co-chair of Friends of the Green Line, a transportation advocacy group that supports the extension to LAX.
Rosendahl, an unabashed supporter of the proposed rail extension to the airport, believes that the time to have a joint powers authority is now.
“Timing is everything,” the councilman said. “Every major airport has a light rail that goes to the airport, and [the Green Line] extension could plug right into LAX.”
Rosendahl mentioned that the master plan for the modernization for the airport is currently being formulated, and extending a Westside light rail system as well as the Green Line to LAX would be a way to alleviate traffic not only around LAX but in the region as well.
“Now is the time to include a mass transit connection in the LAX plans,” he said.
Both he and Alpern suggested that through the use of local user fees (a $1 parking fee, a small development fee on new development near LAX, a $1 rental car fee) money could be raised to help pay for the extension.
Michael Turner, who manages The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA or Metro) Government Relations Department, confirmed that Metro officials consider the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail and the Cren- shaw Light Rail as their top priorities regarding rail projects to be built and funded.
“The Green Line is a part of our strategic long-range plan, but currently there is no funding for a Green Line JPA [joint powers authority],” Turner told The Argonaut. “Due to budget shortfalls on the state and federal levels, we are severely limited in our ability to fund new projects.”
The Expo Line, as it is commonly known, is slated to run from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City in its first installment, and continue later to Santa Monica. The Crenshaw line would run from south Los Angeles and would connect the Expo Line to the Green Line. The budget for Expo is approximately $700 million.
Alpern dismissed concerns about the lack of funding for the Green Line expansion, which would end short of the airport at LAX Parking Lot C at Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards in one alternative.
“The Expo Line Construction Authority had no money when it was created, but had the ability to pursue funding on its own and now is on its way to becoming a reality,” he pointed out. “So any concerns about funding have been proven specious.”
Metro board members have not weighed in on Oropeza’s proposed legislation but, like Turner, they are worried that the necessary financial resources for the bill are not available.
“The Metro board has not yet taken a position on the legislation — agency staff will need to review it and apprise the board for their direction,” David Sotero, senior public information officer for Metro, replied in an e-mail when questioned about the Metro board of director’s position on SB 1722. “We are concerned with funding issues throughout the region, and the extension of the Green Line to LAX is included in the Long Range Transportation Plan. However, it remains unfunded due to a shortfall of transportation dollars needed for the region.”
Some advocates for an extension of the Green Line to LAX feel that joining with the Crenshaw light rail line would not be feasible.
“If we wait two to three years [for the Crenshaw Line plans to be developed], the LAX Plan will be done by then,” Rosendahl argued. “A construction authority is needed this year, to negotiate with Los Angeles World Airports to get a mass transit link included in LAX.”
Lieu expressed mild support for the idea of linking the Green and Crenshaw Lines, with certain conditions.
“What I want to do is get light rail to the airport,” said the assemblyman. “I might support any way that gets light rail to LAX with the understanding that the Green Line must also be funded.”
For the time being, that is not in the works, according to Metro officials.
“We are very appreciative that a lot of people would like to see more mass transportation,” said Turner. “The sad news is, our ability to fund new projects is somewhat restricted, and there has been no commitment from LAX to pay for an extension to the airport.”
Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, the city agency that operates LAX) said that federal funding possibilities for a Green Line expansion could exist only if the rail extension were into the airport.
“There has to be a nexus to the airport in order to apply for airport improvement funds,” Castles said.
Oropeza’s office declined to comment for this story.