LAX: Airport staff push plan to move north runway closer toward local communities
By Helga Gendell
Los Angeles World Airports staff recommended two alternatives from the draft environmental impact report for the Los Angeles International Airport Specific Amendment Plan Study (SPAS) to the city Board of Airport Commissioners at its Dec. 3 meeting.
The draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the Specific Plan Amendment Study outlines nine alternatives proposed by Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX.
The SPAS alternatives chosen by airport staff are 1 and 9, which would reconfigure the two northern runways at LAX, separating them by 260 feet and extending the northern runway closer toward the communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Alternative 1 includes a configuration option for the north airfield, along with terminal improvements. The northernmost runway, 6L/24R, would be moved 260 feet north and a center taxiway would be constructed between the two runways.
Alternative 9 is an option for LAX’s ground transportation system featuring “new ground facilities outside the Central Terminal Area that would include an intermodal transportation facility, a consolidated rental car facility that would eventually be built, and an automated people mover when ground transportation merits those improvements,” according to LAWA documentation.
In addition, LAWA officials said they are “identifying three potential sites for light rail/airport circulator connections, two of which are on airport property, preserving opportunities for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to bring light rail directly into the airport.”
“Recommending the combination of Alternatives 1 and 9, while not the optimal runway configuration, is an approach that balances the needs of the airport with the stated interests of the neighboring communities,” said LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey.
“We promise to deliver a plan for LAX that is safe, environmentally balanced, sustainable, and financially responsible all while improving the passenger experience and ensuring that LAX will continue to be L.A.’s economic engine for years to come. We have done just that.”
The Airport Commission will not make a decision on approving the two alternatives until LAWA has completed the final EIR, and the public has had another opportunity to voice concerns. There are also review and approval mechanisms from the Los Angeles City Council, Los Angeles County, state and federal reviews, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Residents and business owners opposing the runway reconfiguration project have repeatedly said that they are in favor of modernizing the airport, but not in favor of expanding its footprint into the Westchester-Playa del Rey communities.
The cities of El Segundo, Inglewood and Culver City have also opposed reconfiguration of the runway because of potential noise and environmental impacts.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl told The Argonaut, “I am still for modernization, not expansion. The runway status lights and qualified control tower personnel are a primary component of safety at LAX, and we need to get that done. Funding has been established and the FAA has approved the status lights. We need 47 controllers in the tower, and at this point there may only be 34 or 35. I have not received an update yet on the number at the present time.
“Regarding expenditures, we’ve spent $1.5 billion on the (Tom) Bradley (International) West Terminal, but we still need a sufficient number of customs agents to improve the passenger experience,” Rosendahl continued.
“Moving the runway 260 feet north is more of a convenience issue for capacity for the A380 Airbus, and that’s in the future. We need the Metro link, which is funded through Measure R, to connect to Ontario International Airport, like the one at Denver International Airport, to get into downtown Los Angeles.
“I’ve told the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce members that Los Angeles is a megalopolis, and part of a much larger picture. Ontario can get passengers from all over. The city of Los Angeles hasn’t shown enough support for regionalization. You can get to downtown Los Angeles faster from Ontario on the Metro than from LAX,” Rosendahl said.
The councilman continued, “Get some non-stop, discount flights out of Ontario, and it will benefit all of the chambers in Southern California. I’ve worked with the community to stop the lawsuits regarding LAX.
“Moving the north runway 260 feet can be discussed, but not acted on.”
Opponents of reconfiguring the runway and extending it into the business and residential areas of Westchester and Playa del Rey have voiced support of SPAS Alternatives 2 and 9 during public comment meetings, stating that the capacity needs for LAX would be met with airfield and transportation improvements without any reconfiguration of the runways.
Mike Bonin, chief of staff for Rosendahl, is a candidate for the councilman’s seat in next year’s election and has expressed similar views to his boss on the north runway proposal. Rosendahl, who has chosen not to run due to his battle with cancer, has endorsed Bonin in his campaign.
“I am glad that LAWA has selected a preferred alternative for the Specific Plan Amendment Study EIR so we can finally discuss, debate and compare it against other proposals. In LAWA’s plan, there is a ton to love, something to oppose, and a few things to fix,” said Bonin.
“We need a world-class airport that looks and feels like Los Angeles: welcoming, efficient, and forward-looking. We need modernization projects that jumpstart our economy and make LAX the economic engine that it can and should be. This plan largely does that. Specifically, I embrace and encourage plans to move forward on a Consolidated Rental Car Center, an Intermodal Transportation Center, the automated people mover, and a Green Line extension directly into LAX.
“We need a plan that modernizes the airport without expanding it and impacting airport neighbors. An irrefutable study has shown the north airfield to be safe, and the DEIR says that not moving the runways is the ‘environmentally superior’ alternative,” Bonin continued.
“By contrast, LAWA’s plan for the runway would create more pollution, produce more noise, and not do a thing to improve throughput or operational efficiency at LAX. A reconfiguration of the north airfield is simply not justified, and I stand strongly and firmly with my constituents – and on the basis of the facts of LAWA’s own EIR – in opposing moving the runways north.
“LAWA gets most of its plans right, but it gets some of the timing wrong. The ConRac, the people mover, and the Green Line should be built before traffic and congestion at LAX spikes, not after. And if the runways do get moved, that project should happen last, after the airport has made good on its various commitments to mitigation,” Bonin said.
Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), told The Argonaut he is disappointed that LAWA is still pushing for immediate expansion.
“It is now up to the city of Los Angeles voters to tell LAWA to find some fiscal sanity. All of the mayoral candidates will be asked to sign a pledge that opposes runway expansion until it is warranted. Don’t vote for the candidate who refuses,” he said.
Information on the LAX Specific Plan Amendment Study, SPAS program director Diego Alvarez at (424) 646-5179, or www.laxspas.org. §