Advocates for extending the Metro Green Line light rail to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) cheered a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors that some feel could help them achieve what they were denied last year.
Fourth District Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, submitted a motion at last month’s Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro or MTA) board of directors meeting requesting that the board change its earlier opposition to the creation of a joint powers authority for the Green Line extension.
The motion passed April 30th, much to the delight of Ken Alpern, the co-chair of the citizen advocacy group Friends of the Green Line.
“The fact that the board passed the motion is significant,” Alpern said.
Knabe’s motion recommended that the board adopt a “work with the author” of the bill instead of opposing it, as was its prior position.
“Although a Green Line JPA [joint powers authority] may or may not be the best plan, Supervisor Knabe felt that rather than oppose anything, we should work to be supportive of it,” said Knabe’s press deputy David Sommers after the motion passed. “It isn’t so much that [the motion] is supporting the JPA as much as it is support for connecting mass transit to the airport.”
State Senator Jenny Oropeza is the author of Senate Bill (SB) 1722, which would oversee various activities related to the construction and completion of the light rail line extension to LAX. She believes that creating a construction entity is the best and quickest way to get a light rail line that goes into the airport, a primary goal of most Green Line supporters.
“[SB 1722] is not seeking state funding,” the senator said in a recent interview. “We are trying to identify our own resources for funding the bill.”
The Green Line travels east from Norwalk and as far south as Aviation Boulevard in Redondo Beach. Advocates of extending the rail line closer to the airport, the nation’s fourth-busiest, believe that an extension to LAX would alleviate traffic congestion and air pollution and advance Los Angeles’s burgeoning light rail system.
Metro officials had previously opposed the creation of the authority due to its lack of funding. In addition, they consider the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail Line and the Crenshaw Corridor light rail to be their top priorities.
“The Green Line is a part of our strategic long-range plan, but currently there is no funding for a Green Line,” Michael Turner of Metro’s government relations department told The Argonaut. “Due to budget shortfalls on the state and federal levels, we are severely limited in our ability to fund new projects.”
Those who back the extension to LAX counter that forming the construction entity would not be a drain on funding that has already been allocated.
“This is not asking for state funds,” Assemblyman Ted Lieu, whose district includes LAX, reiterated, echoing Oropeza. ” It doesn’t authorize any additional funds.”
Some supporters of SB 1722 believe that there is a possibility to access airport funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.
In order to qualify for federal support, one of the requirements would be that the rail line enter airport property, said LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles. “There has to be a nexus to the airport in order to apply for airport improvement funds,” Castles said.
Currently, the proposed Green Line expansion would go to Aviation and Century Boulevards but not enter onto airport grounds.
“We’re looking into that possibility,” Oropeza said regarding an extension onto LAX property. “It would make good planning sense.”
“The big question that we have to face here is what does ‘within the airport’ mean?” Alpern said. “Does it mean having the Green Line go all the way into the terminal at LAX?”
Alpern isn’t sure that entering airport grounds would be the most effective use of a Green Line extension.
“It might be cost-prohibitive and operationally inefficient,” he said. “For security reasons, it might be better to have the train stop at Parking Lot C near the airport and have an independent people mover take passengers into the airport,” he suggested.
The people mover is a part of the airport’s proposed modernization plan. It would be “LAX-focused transportation” that would transport passengers from the Aviation/Century transit station to the airport.
Lieu, who is the co-sponsor of SB 1722, believes that a rail extension into the airport fits in with LAX plans to modernize its facilities.
“Los Angeles is on a mission to remake LAX,” the assemblyman noted. “No matter how much they talk about modernization, it will never be a world-class airport until there is a light rail extension there.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl agrees.
“Every major airport has a light rail that goes to the airport, and [the Green Line] extension could plug right into LAX,” the councilman said.
Oropeza characterized Metro’s opposition to her proposed bill as “very narrow thinking.
“Sometimes [Metro] misses opportunities because of ‘in-the-box thinking’,” she said. “These JPAs have a tendency to think very creatively.”
The proposed state legislation still faces some challenges. An infusion of federal dollars is by no means certain.
On May 31st last year, a similar bill by Lieu that would have also established a construction authority, Assembly Bill (AB) 889, was tabled by the Appropriations Committee.
SB 1722 still faces some possible hurdles in the Legislature. On May 5th, the bill was put “on suspense” in the State Senate Appropriations Committee. All bills that are deemed to cost at least $50,000 are held over for later consideration, sometimes until the state budget is passed.
Oropeza realizes that funding from the federal level is still very much up in the air but she feels it would be very welcome to the Green Line extension plan.
“That would be an added bonus,” she acknowledged.
Although the board has instructed Metro officials to work with supporters of SB 1722, transit funds remain scarce, said Metro’s Turner.
“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.”