Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that operates Los Angeles International Airport, held two public scoping meetings Nov. 3 and 6 to gain input on a revised Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a draft environmental impact report for the airport’s Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS).
The proposed project consists of a Specific Plan Amendment Study, including related amendments to the adopted LAX Plan and LAX Specific Plan. Airport officials said potential amendments will be identified by evaluating potential alternative designs, technologies, and configurations for the LAX Master Plan Program that would provide possible solutions to the problems that certain LAX Master Plan projects, referred to as “yellow light projects,” were designed to address, based on a practical airport capacity at 78.9 million annual passengers.
The LAX Master Plan was adopted in December 2004, with a special procedure for the yellow light projects, which include:
Develop a Ground Transportation Center (GTC);
Construct an Automated People Mover 2 (APM2) from the GTC to the Central Terminal Area (CTA);
Demolish CTA Terminals 1, 2 and 3;
North runway reconfiguration, including center taxiways; and
Make on-site road improvements associated with the GTC and people mover.
Diego Alvarez, the project manager for the Specific Plan Amendment Study, described the project options, the next steps and a timeline for the proposals at the public scoping meetings. Public comments from the meetings will be addressed formally in an appendix in the draft environmental impact report (DEIR).
Alvarez discussed the planned yellow light projects which included the Ground Transportation Center, an automated people mover from the GTC to Central Terminal Area, the demolition of Terminals 1, 2 and 3, the reconfiguration of the north airfield, and roadway improvements associated with the ground transportation center.
Also included were the north airfield improvements, which call for moving the inboard runway, the primary departure runway known as 24L, 340 feet south, and resulting in the demolition of Terminals 1, 2 and 3; the GTC which would process passengers with no vehicles allowed in the CTA, and the people mover that would connect from the GTC to the CTA. In addition, planned roadway improvements would help people get to the GTC.
Alvarez said the purpose of the Specific Plan Amendment Study is to restudy those elements of the master plan. He discussed the original elements of the plan and said that according to the stipulated settlement, LAWA is proceeding with that restudy.
“We are focused on the study of potential alternative designs, technologies and configurations that would provide solutions to the problems that the yellow light projects were designed to address consistent with a practical capacity of LAX at 78.9 million annual passengers,” said Alvarez.
“We are looking at security, traffic and aviation implications of those alternatives and the potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures associated with the replacement of the yellow light projects with the yellow light projects or with their alternatives.
Alvarez said this wasn’t the beginning of the Specific Plan Amendment Study, and that an NOP was initially released in March 2008.
He said that some important events occurred after that date and that they learned new things, such as the completion of the north airfield safety study by the academic panel; the Federal Aviation Administration’s response to that study and the city’s responses; updates to Metro’s long-range plan which occurred in 2009; additional analysis of how LAX ground transportation works; and acquisition of Park One, just east of Terminal 1 through the CTA area.
Alvarez said that as a result, they are expanding, refining the options that could be used to replace yellow light projects. He said what was different from previous efforts was that they haven’t developed a comprehensive alternative that would replace those yellow light projects.
He said now they have options for the airfield, options for the terminals, and options for the ground that could be used to construct an alternative that could replace the yellow light projects.
Following the scoping process, the EIR alternatives will be formulated and combined into an “end-to-end system” and processed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the EIR.
“We have the approved Master Plan which is Alternative D, that would move the north airfield 340 feet south. We have an option to move that same inboard runway 100 feet south with a couple of design options, and then four options that would move the outboard runway in various increments to the north,” he said.
Alvarez said the various potential options for the airfield include:
The relocation of the north runway 340 feet to the south, where the inboard runway would be extended to help accommodate the larger aircraft that currently cannot take off from that runway;
The addition of a centerfield taxiway to improve safety and operational efficiency; and
Keeping the outboard runway used for arrivals in the same place but extending it to the west by 1,495 feet, and building two taxiways the full length from the end of the runway to a point east of Terminal 1.
An alternative option to moving the inboard runway 340 feet south would be moving it 100 feet south, Alvarez said, but the implications are that the outboard runway would be the same as it is today.
“We would build two taxiways so that planes can get to and from the runways from the terminals,” said Alvarez.
“We have two design options because there is a limitation on space between the southern runway and the terminals for those taxiways. We’ve taken two design options: One design option has both taxiways continuing all the way to connect to the end of the departure area.
“The next set of options would have our primary arriving airfield to the north, and build a centerline taxiway, and leave the primary departure airfield where it is now, but extend it to the east. It would also have us building two full-length taxiways, some of which are there right now, and would also have an impact on the tunnel,” he said.
“Today’s airfield has a subsequent runway protection zone (RPZ), a trapezoidal shape, determined by FAA regulations. That current RPZ overlays businesses in Westchester and some residences northeast of the airport. It would be part of the EIR analysis process.
Alvarez said they would look at extending the pavement to the west, allowing them to displace the threshold and moving arrivals theoretically closer to the center of the airfield at a higher elevation from the community.
“It would also move the RPZ to the west and have a different profile on the businesses and homes that would be changed. No residences, but a different set of businesses, would be affected by the amount of distance that the airfield would move to the north,” he explained.
Moving the runway 100, 200, 300 or 400 feet to the north are other design options, Alvarez said.
He said that all of the options where the outboard runway moves north and the inboard runway remains, there would still be an impact on the terminals.
The proposed change to the inboard runway and the resulting move of the taxiways in the first option would demolish tiers for Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 at the north part of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, and rebuild concourse space.
Passenger processing, ticketing and baggage would be handled in the central terminal area instead, said Alvarez.
Chris Martin, CEO of A.C. Martin Partners and an architect, said that the airport must have the overall goal of being the most efficient, beautiful, well-run airport that doesn’t exceed a cap of 78.9 million annual passengers.
“That’s all of our goals. We want accommodation for the modern Group VI aircraft that are quieter and more fuel efficient. In order to do that we need runway separations,” said Martin, chair of the aviation committee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “Separation of runways with a midfield taxiway is imperative to do that to break the cycle of high-speed departures from a landing runway.
“In a letter from FAA Administrator (Randolph) Babbitt it’s obvious that he feels the same way. Also, the safety advisory committee identified a 55 percent safety increase by separating the runways 360 feet,”said Martin.
He stated that the north runway has to move north and destroying terminals on the north to accommodate that move is economically not viable.
“Improving the community surface transportation by building a consolidated rental car facility at Manchester Square is a wonderful enhancement to the community. It takes tremendous amounts of traffic off the streets and sends it right to the freeway.”
Playa del Rey resident David Voss claimed he’s seen this issue from more different perspectives than anyone to be heard from at the meeting. He noted his experience as an attorney, former chair of the Westchester-Playa neighborhood council’s Airport Relations Committee and chair of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce’s ad hoc committee on Alternatives A, B, C, and D. Voss also served as general counsel to TWA and served on the Board of Airport Commissioners under former Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn.
“I am chagrined by the comments of one of my fellow panelists [Martin]. I spent two years on that NASA academic panel painstakingly working to try to make sure that we had consensus. And when the results of that came out, there was a letter that went out, from the [Los Angeles] Chamber of Commerce saying we all need to live by whatever comes out from that study, whatever it might be,” he said.
“That study concluded, uncategorically, that there was no need to move runways for safety. It was as absolutely unambiguous as possible. What you heard here, saying it made it 55 percent safer was 55 percent of a statistically insignificant improvement.
“So to take it out of context, and tell you that it makes it 55 percent safer, is to miss the entire point that the academic panel made. Our runways are safe and we do not need to move them for safety,” Voss affirmed.
As an attorney, Voss said he is looking at several key issues.
“In looking at the settlement documents, it is my perspective that anything that exceeds the scope of what was potentially going to impact the neighborhoods, that was on the table at the time of that settlement, is violative of the settlement and exposes LAWA and the city to future suit.
“Proposing that the northern runway could be moved 400 feet north as if no decision had been previously rendered is also beyond the scope of the settlement agreement and exposes LAWA to a lawsuit,” Voss claimed.
Voss said that the FAA approved of the south airfield for Group VI aircraft and then changed the standards. He claimed that while the south airfield still doesn’t meet those standards today and it could change again, that doesn’t mean the south and north airfields can’t safely handle large aircraft like the A380s.
Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), claimed to The Argonaut, “LAWA is proposing an LAX Master Plan update that is myopic at best. Instead of making it the safe, secure and convenient airport that our city deserves, it is just another blatant attempt at expansion.
Schneider said that LAX needs major terminal and roadway updates, but is instead emphasizing very costly, unnecessary runway expansion when less expensive fixes are available.
He claimed they downplay the costs and minimize the impacts of moving runways north and west, not just on local communities, but on the region as a whole.
“LAWA acknowledges that they don’t have the money to do everything now, yet they are pushing for approval to implement whatever they want in any order. Almost five years ago many important LAX improvements were agreed upon for fast-tracking by the settlement agreement. All remain incomplete and mostly not started,” Schneider said.
He claimed that an example of a LAWA misleading statement was made at the recent NOP meeting.
“They stated factually that the FAA hasn’t asked that more businesses and homes be removed. LAWA knows full well that such a request won’t occur until their plan is submitted for approval,” Schneider said.
The Specific Plan Amendment Study is online. www.OurLAX.org.
The draft EIR will be available for review in late 2011. The final EIR is expected to be adopted late 2011 or early 2012, said Alvarez.
Comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29. Responses should be sent to Herb Glasgow, chief of airport planning I, city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles World Airports, 1 World Way, Room 218, Los Angeles, CA 90045 or e-mailed to: LAXSPAS@LAWA.ORG.
The story will continue next week with more public comments and comments from public officials.