Funding for airport Metro station is next hurdle for light rail supporters
By Gary Walker
Advocates of masstransit were enthusiastic to learn that the top official of Los Angeles World Airports is in favor of creating a network where a light rail train can enter Los Angeles International Airport.
Now comes that difficult part of the equation: paying for the proposal.
LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey signaled her support for a light rail station in December during an interview with The Argonaut and airport authorities have also identified property within LAX that they think would be a good location for a Metro station.
But funding for an airport stop will be perhaps the single biggest challenge for supporters of having a station on LAWA grounds.
Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern thinks a missed opportunity for helping to defray the cost of a light rail connection to LAX occurred Nov. 6 when a ballot measure that could have created revenue for the project lost by 1 percent.
Measure J was a ballot measure designed to extend an earlier transportation tax, Measure R, passed in 2008. The ballot initiative would have extended Measure R another 30 years through a half-cent sales tax and paid for existing transportation projects, including light rail initiatives like the Expo Line, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Green Line, all of which reach or are slated to reach the Westside.
“It’s very unfortunate that the recently proposed Measure J did not pass by such a small margin, because it would have been a perfect source of funding for this worthy project,” Alpern, who is a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, lamented.
The sales tax measure garnered 65 percent of the vote and a two-thirds threshold was required for passage.
There is $200 million for Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan from Measure R. The current plan is to have the light rail system built by 2028, but according to Metro authorities, that is contingent on a financial contribution by LAWA.
Another question is the Federal Aviation Administration’s position on a Crenshaw/LAX Corridor extension into the airport.
Representatives of the federal agency say they will carefully examine any plan that LAX officials present them. To date, they say they have not been apprised on any plans to bring light rail into LAX.
“LAWA is considering how best to accommodate rail service into LAX. LAWA has not made a decision and has not presented the FAA with any plan,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “If and when they do, the FAA will thoroughly review that plan to ensure it is compatible with safe aircraft operations.”
David Ewing, a co-chair of the Los Angeles Council District 11 Transportation Committee, thinks LAWA should also offer to offset the cost of a new station at LAX.
“It certainly would be to their benefit,” he said.
Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe suggested that one way to get additional funding for an airport connection is by leveraging relationships in the public and private sectors.
Mass transit proponents have been calling for a connection into LAX for years. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester and the airport area, likes Knabe’s idea of public/private partnerships as well as the option of having a station near the Central Terminal.
“We need to take a look at every option that we can,” he said. “I have been advocating for a light rail station for years and it’s good to hear that just about everybody is on board with it now.”
Knabe added, “This is probably one of the most important things that we can do as far as having a mass transit system that is truly a regional connector. There are a lot of people who have an interest in seeing that happen.”
LAWA spokeswoman Nancy Castles said her agency and Metro have been working together on potential areas for a light station. “We offered them land on the airport itself if they wish to pursue that,” she said.
The options include an underground station between Terminals 1 and 7 at the airport, an intermodal transportation facility near 96th Street and the LAX Economy Parking Lot C, and at Manchester Square.
“(The underground station) would be either near our LAWA administration building or near the proposed Terminal Zero on the Park One property,” Castles added.
There is also federal support for a light rail-to-LAX connection from Westchester’s elected congressional representative.
“Not only is it necessary, but I am also very pleased to support this proposal and I will do everything that I can to work with our officials in Washington on this project,” pledged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester).
Alpern thinks a newly crafted revenue-generating ballot measure would likely get voter approval.
“However, a rewritten Measure J that has both a more realistic voter threshold, perhaps 55-60 percent, not the 67 percent margin it currently has to overcome, as well as a specific and earmarked inclusion of this Metrorail/LAX connection, would certainly pass voter muster,” he predicted.
Ewing agrees with Alpern.
“I do think that is a possibility because the vote was so close the last time,” he noted. “Part of the problem was that it was on the ballot with two other tax measures.”
Ewing was referring to Propositions 30 and 38, two initiatives that sought to raise taxes on wealthier citizens to fund education that were also on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“For something like this you want as large a turnout as possible,” Ewing continued. “The more voters that go to the polls, the more apt they are to be people who depend on public transportation.”
Castles said it will ultimately be Metro’s decision which light rail location is chosen.
Gregor said his agency would be more forthcoming on its views once it sees what Expo and LAWA have planned.
“The FAA continues to work with all parties involved, including LAWA, the Federal Transit Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and will respond accordingly once LAWA makes its decision,” Gregor said.
A potential light rail connector to the airport must receive the approval of the FAA.
Knabe submitted a motion at the Oct. 25 meeting of the Metro Board of Directors asking for a “detailed strategy” for a transit connection to the airport by 2020.
The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to meet Thursday, Jan. 24 to consider Knabe’s earlier motion.