By Gary Walker
A report on how a controversial Los Angeles International Airport plan would reconfigure one of the Westside’s most traveled and important thoroughfares contradicts claims of a two-year shutdown by Westchester and Playa del Rey residents.
Los Angeles World Airports is embracing what is known as Alternative 1 of the LAX Specific Plan Amendment Study, which would move the airport’s northernmost runway 260 feet towards Playa del Rey and Westchester, a plan that has enraged not only residents of the two communities but also members of other Westside communities.
Opponents of this plan contend that moving the runway will cause it to overlap Lincoln Boulevard where it meets Sepulveda Boulevard less than a mile from the airport and will necessitate closing Lincoln, which like Sepulveda, is a major vehicular thoroughfare.
This they say, will create a two year “Carmageddon,” a term associated with the predicted logjam on the 405 freeway after it was closed in 2011 for road enhancements on the Sepulveda Pass. The predictions of severe, miles-long traffic backups two years ago did not materialize.
The airport review of potential Lincoln reconfiguration was conducted by Mark Orton, who has 37 years of experience in highway design, in coordination with LAWA Senior Transportation Engineer Patrick Tomcheck. It states that any reconfiguration of the boulevard will be included in the final environmental impact report and therefore it is not accurate to predict that Lincoln will become more congested in the future.
“As indicated in the (study’s) final EIR, this realignment of Lincoln Boulevard is conceptual in nature, and considered at only a programmatic level of analysis in the EIR. Consequently, no construction phasing plans for the subject improvement have been prepared, as such plans would be more appropriately developed in conjunction with more detailed future planning and design of that project,” the report states.
Ken Alpern, a Mar Vista resident who is the co-chair of the Transit Coalition, dismissed the report by Tomcheck and Orton.
“Consider the source,” said Alpern, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council. “These are the people who for many years have put one obstacle after another in front of the Green Line (a light rail train) from getting into LAX.”
Craig Eggers, who heads the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s Airport Relations Committee, took issue with the report based on the fact that no analysis on the Lincoln-Sepulveda exchange has been conducted, as the report points out.
“How can they say that when there are no studies?” Eggers asked.
CDM Smith, a consulting, engineering, construction and operations firm, provided research for evaluation of the traffic impact on Lincoln. The firm identified the basic phases of a typical roadway realignment program such as what is conceptually proposed for Lincoln, based on expert opinion and professional experience on other projects of a similar nature, according to LAWA officials.
“In light of the site setting and basic characteristics of this conceptual improvement, no long-term closure of Lincoln Boulevard is anticipated to be required in order to complete the realignment of Lincoln Boulevard. The boundaries of the project site are in an undeveloped area that is owned and controlled by LAWA. The majority of the realigned segment of Lincoln Boulevard would be located several hundred feet away from the existing alignment,” the report states.
“There is no reasonable basis to believe that construction of the realigned Lincoln Boulevard associated with implementation of the (Specific Plan Amendment Study) board-selected alternative would require the complete closure of Lincoln Boulevard at any time during construction, let alone for an extended period.”
Alpern thinks the reason for the review is because airport officials are aware of the public groundswell against moving the runway.
“It is my belief that LAWA is much more concerned that the real problems are coming to light and therefore that (Alternative 1) is the wrong approach to modernization,” he asserted.
The rancorous dispute between LAWA and residents who reject its runway plan has grown beyond the borders of Westchester. A strange mix of entities not typically aligned with one another are supporting LAWA’s plan, including the influential Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and several of the city’s biggest public sector unions.
The Board of Airport Commissioners, much to Westchester residents’ dismay, also joined airport executives in voting in favor of Alternative 1.
The groans in Westchester grew even louder when the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, to which business-minded residents pledge strong allegiance and many members of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa have direct or indirect ties to, decided to cast its fate with LAWA’s runway plan as well. That led to an exodus of members from the local chamber, including Airport Commissioner Valeria Velasco, a Playa del Rey resident.
“Following the lead of Karen Dial and Drollinger Properties and other chamber members, it is with regret that I will not be renewing my membership in the chamber this year because the chamber supports (Alternative 1) which will further negatively impact the 60,000 men, women and children who live, work, study and play in Playa del Rey and Westchester,” Velasco, the only commissioner to vote against Alternative 1, wrote to the local chamber in March.
The City Council is slated to vote Tuesday, April 30 on LAX’s modernization plan.