One of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's great early victories was the negotiation of the settlement that allowed the LAX master plan to move forward. Now, nearly a year later, the progress continues with projects and community meeting well underway. But not all the action is as LAX. The mayor also convened the dormant S. California Regional Airport Authority to envision a truly regional air travel scheme. TPR was pleased to speak with Jaime de la Vega, deputy mayor for transportation, about these developments.
The Southern California Regional Airport Authority, which the Mayor championed when running for office, met this month. What does such a meeting portend for efforts at regional collaboration to build a network of airports in Southern California?
I attended that meeting of the Southern California Regional Airport Authority on behalf of the mayor this week. The mayor's goal with this entity is to begin a dialog with everyone in this region-and when we say region, it's not just L.A. city or L.A. County; it's all of Southern California-to talk about the future of aviation. We're focused on joint planning, consensus-building, and joint marketing efforts. It is not an agency that operates airports or controls the finances of airports. Those functions will remain with individual airport operators. The mayor's hope is that we'll create a regional network of airports so that regardless of where you live in Southern California you will have convenient access to an airport that meets your needs.
LAX has commenced two major improvement projects: the south runway, and the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Bring us up to date on these two projects and on the status of the other planned "green light" projects.
The south runway is currently under construction and on schedule. The primary purpose of that project is to create a new center taxiway that will help minimize runway incursions. That is the first green light project and it was agreed to as part of the master plan settlement.
The modernization of Tom Bradley International Terminal is actually not a green light project; it's a separate project involving both cosmetic improvements and, more importantly, major improvements in security. They are going to re-wire the building for an up-to-date IT and security system, and they're putting in a new in-line baggage screening system. The baggage screening system will allow customers to check bags at the counter, and the bags will then go into the bowels of the airport, be screened for explosives and other contraband, and assuming those bags are clean, they'll be sent to their respective planes.
The third project, which has not gotten a lot of press, is the approval of the in-line baggage screening projects for the remainder of the LAX terminals. That work is just beginning now, and that will have the same benefits as at TBIT.
Tutor-Saliba, which won the runway contract, has a long and not-very-distinguished record of completing projects on-time and on-budget. How will the runway project, as well as the Bradley Terminal construction-budgeted at $575 million and thus the largest public construction project in the city's history -be supervised?
Tutor-Saliba was selected for the south runway because they were deemed responsive and responsible, and it was a low-bid contract, and they were the lowest bidder. LAWA has a project manager dedicated to the project, and that project manager reports to Executive Director Lydia Kennard on a frequent basis, and they report monthly to the Airport Commission as well as our office on the performance related to schedules, budget, and quality of construction.
Everyone in the decision-making chain is very involved in making sure that project comes in on-time, on-budget, and safely. For TBIT, Clark is a big company; they have worked successfully on a number of very large projects. It's a big, complicated project, but everyone is confident in their ability.
What are the biggest hurdles to completing the LAX master plan?
There are three primary issues related to the master plan: ground access, noise, and air quality. In the last two areas, noise and air quality, some of it is related to the airplanes themselves-those emissions are regulated by the federal government- and some is related to auto and cargo traffic. Currently we're in the middle of a master plan process and the airport is holding a series of community meetings. Some concepts have been discussed, but no decision has been made yet. The airport staff is still looking at alternatives. Some of those have been published in the media and discussed at public meetings, and we're going to look at everything and see what the best alternative is.
What is the estimated timeline for making those decisions?
The airport staff is set to begin a formal environmental analysis of alternatives to the previously adopted master plan within the coming months. It's currently scheduled for approval by the Airport Commission and the City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee and City Council by fall 2008. That timeline is prescribed by the lawsuit settlement.
How comfortable is the mayor's office with the pace of the roll-out of the master plan for the airport?
Since day one-July 1, 2005-the mayor has been pushing for the south runway and the in-line baggage screening. The mayor and I were in Washington, D.C., in July 2005, and we met with Secretary Norm Mineta and FAA Administrator Miriam Blakey. They made it very clear to us that runway incursions on the south runway were a huge concern and that it was important for that project to move forward as quickly as possible. As a result of those conversations, when we engaged in the settlement discussions, the mayor made it clear to the plaintiffs that the south runway had to move forward quickly, and that's what we did.
What options are available for improving ingress and egress at LAX? How will LADOT head Gloria Jeff be involved?
Our office has asked Gloria Jeff to work with Lydia Kennard and the airport staff on that issue. She's not the only one working with the airport; they're also working with the MTA and Caltrans, and SGAG on these issues, not just locally but also regionally. I think each of those agencies has an important role to play.
Are there issues related to the extension of the Green Line versus the Flyaway that the master plan will address?
The mayor is committed first to expanding the Flyaway bus system regionally. Last year we opened a second Flyaway service from Union Station to LAX; travel time is about 35 minutes. We also implemented the first remote baggage check system at the Van Nuys Flyaway; that's now been expanded to Union Station, the Convention Center, and the ports. Our hope is to add more terminals throughout the city, county, and region to improve access to LAX and at the same time take cars off the street. Regardless of what happens with the master plan and the rail system, we are going to move forward on the Flyaway Expansion.
We're a little early in the planning process to know how rail transit will connect to the airport, but we are committed to a rail connection. Among the options are extending the Green Line itself, potentially having a spur off the Expo Line going down an old railroad right of way called the Harbor Subdivision, and/or having a series of people movers from the endpoints of their rail systems into the airport terminals. A lot of this will depends on how the planning progresses and where the western terminal actually ends up on the airport property. So some logistical constraints will determine whether the rail line can actually come into the terminal.
When MIR returns to the mayor's office a year from now, what will we be discussing in regards to LAX?
In a year we're going to be in the middle of this planning process, and hopefully we will have a clear plan of how we're going to expand the Flyaway system. We're going to be well underway on the Bradley Terminal modernization, and we'll be underway on the inline baggage screening system, and we'll be close to completing the south runway.