September 30, 1991 - From the September, 1991 issue

Point-Counterpoint: Galanter and Department Debate LAX Expansion

Los Angeles International Air­port (LAX) has presented expansion plans for the year 2000 that include new passenger terminals, cargo facilities, a transportation center, and a people mover. City of Los Angeles agencies are also developing a mas­ter plan for LAX, to be completed in 1993, addressing long-term policy issues. 

LAX expansion is a crucial planning issue for economic devel­opment, transportation, air quality, and land use compatibility. The im­pacts from LAX expansion will spill beyond the borders of the City of Los Angeles, into county lands and the cities of the West Side and South Bay.

To explore the planning and land use impacts of the proposed LAX ex­pansion, The Planning Report posed a series of questions in a point-coun­terpoint format to Jack Graham, Director of Aviation Planning for the Department of Airports, and to Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, the leading critic of LAX expansion.  

What is the justification for the ex­pansion of LAX? Are there good alternatives to such an expansion? 

Graham: Even with full and effi­cient utilization of existing terminal facilities and gates, LAX will still require an additional two million square feet of passenger terminal space, 29 gates and 82 acres of cargo area to satisfy the forecasted demand of 65 million annual passengers and 2.1 million tons of freight by the year 2000. 

This forecast assumes that other airports in the region continue to grow to maintain their own market shares and serve their own market areas. Considering existing growth limits at other regional airports and lack of viable new sites close to the popula­tion centers, full utilization of LAX is vital to the regional economy. 

ThealtemativetoexpandingLAX is the development of new airports combined with effective growth constraints at LAX. Without growth constraints, LAX will continue to attract passengers and the level of service of the existing access and terminal facilities will severely de­cline with increased congestion and delays. 

The Department of Airports (DOA) owns 17,750 acres of land in the Palmdale area and currently operates a small regional airport on Air Force Plant 42 adjoining this property. It is the department’s intention to develop this site as a regional airport.

It is unlikely, however, that the provision of adequate air service and ground transportation facilities for Palmdale can be accomplished by the year 2000. Beyond the year 2000 LAX will have reached capacity and the development of Palmdale Air­port, as well as another airport in the Orange County area, are essential in providing needed air service in the next century. 

Galanter: The expansion of opera­tions at Los Angeles International Airport is not the inevitable conse­quence of forces beyond our control. The DOA’s plans to expand to 65 Million Annual Passengers (MAP) from 45 MAP is designed to encourage growth as much as to respond to it. And DOA’s argument that LAX growth is re­quired because other regional air­ports have been constrained is ab­surd on its face. 

The next decade will bring growth in the air traffic serving Southern California, but there is no reason such growth must all be served at LAX. 

Alternatives to be explored in­clude short-haul high speed rail, rapid development of capacity at Palmdale, and a larger share of passenger traffic (not just cargo business) at Ontario. We should have a better under­standing of the market forces at work, and we must pay more attention to the environmental impacts of growth. 

LAX has been a major boon to the Southland economy, but it has also brought significant air pollution, traffic congestion and noise. Growth at LAX has destroyed thousands of homes, throwing the jobs/housing balance ratio even further out of kilter, and has caused significant dam­age to local Westchester businesses. 

It’s time for DOA to consider the impact of growth at LAX on our communities as well as the needs of the airlines that profit from it. DOA can change the pace and scope of its growth. 

A good first step would be to pledge immediately a $2 billion in­vestment for the proposed Palmdale International Airport and to put that project on the fast track instead of LAX expansion. 

How should the airport mitigate existing and predicted traffic congestion created by LAX’s growth? 

Galanter: The best way to mitigate traffic is not to produce it in the first plate. Unfortunately, it is too late; it’s been estimated that LAX now generates as much as 25 percent of all the traffic on the Westside. 

The second best alternative is to create strong incentives to leave our cars at home and use mass transit. To date, the airport’s answer to traffic mitigation has been to build more parking lots. 

In fact, LAX agreed to a package of traffic mitigation measures when the city approved expansion to 40 MAP. Many of those measures have not been completed; those that have are largely on-site and nearby, and do little or nothing to reduce the number of cars coming to the airport. If LAX officials are serious about cutting traffic, they should fulfill their obligations to mitigate past expan­sions. 

The most ambitious plan to con­trol traffic would provide multi-modal transit connections to both LAX and Palmdale, while expanding Palmdale. This would balance the impacts of growth and the needs of the traveling public. There is no need to hold Palmdale captive to a rail connection to LAX. After all, LAX grew to its present overwhelming size without passenger rail service. 

Graham: The second level roadway serving the terminals has significantly reduced congestion on internal airport roads. New programs concentrate on improving the capacity and traffic flow of the access roads in the im­mediate vicinity of the airport, and the reduction of vehicle trips. 

To improve traffic flow, a bridge will soon be constructed over Sepulveda at 96th Street. The feasi­bility of widening the Sepulveda Tunnel is now under study. The new I-105 freeway will improve airport access from the east and should re­lieve congested surface routes. Traf­fic flow in the airport area will also be improved by a new automated traffic signal control system. Additional capacity improvements needed to serve new terminal facilities will be identified and may include roadway widenings and exclusive airport roadways, lanes or viaducts. 

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To reduce vehicle trips to the airport, the airport currently operates a subsidized bus service from the San Fernando Valley for passengers and employees. Other locations for re­mote terminal facilities are under study. 

A transportation center and people mover system are also planned to serve the remote parking lots, the passenger terminals, the green line light rail station and the existing bus transit station.

Given the region’s air quality problems, how will the airport’s expan­sion plans be justified to the SCAQMD? 

Graham: Air quality is a regional, not a local, problem. The transfer of air service to other locations in the region will not eliminate or reduce regional emissions. Conversely, emissions may be increased if the auto is used to reach remote airport locations or short haul air destinations. Growth constraints at LAX cannot be justified on the basis of regional air quality. 

Many of the transportation projects mentioned previously will also serve to reduce emissions from mobile sources. In addition to these measures, the airport will be comply­ing with the requirements of the AQMP which now includes a num­ber of aviation-related measures. 

Galanter: Air quality is the key regional issue before us today and LAX is the largest regional traffic generator (ergo, air polluter) in Southern California. The expansion currently envisioned by LAX offi­cials would have a drastic negative impact on the region’s air quality. I have not heard a plausible solution to the problems posed by the Air Qual­ity Management Plan or the Congestion Management Plan. If matters continue on their present course, in­creases in LAX-related air pollution will have to be compensated for by the region’s residents and businesses. 

Our goal should be to share the burdens and benefits of airport ex­pansion equally with others in the region. Decentralizing air traffic would reduce air pollution caused by LAX-related ground traffic by short­ening average car trips and reducing the total vehicle miles traveled. DOA’s expansion plans would in­crease car trips and vehicle miles traveled, and thereby increase air pollution.

What impact should the airport’s neighboring residential and com­mercial communities have in the debate regarding expansion?

Galanter: The neighbors are entitled to protection from noise and pollu­tion impacts. Any expansion plan that does not provide a sufficient level of protection should be rejected. 

Graham: It is obvious that the neigh­boring residential community is se­verely impacted by the noise and traffic connected with the existing airport operations. 

It is the airport’s intent to mitigate these impacts to the extent it is able through traffic reduction, sound proofing, noise control regulations and land use conversion. In these areas, the input of the community is necessary and valuable. 

It should be recognized also that the business community near the airport derives much economic benefit from the airport and has an interest in its continued operation and expan­sion. Many of these businesses de­pend on their proximity to the airport and the variety of air services pro­vided at LAX for their continued growth. As contributors to the eco­nomic well-being of the city and the region, their interests should also be considered. 

On a related subject, would the privatization of LAX increase or reduce the airport’s flexibility in responding to the land use issues raised by expansion? 

Graham: The airport is currently conducting a study on many finan­cial options related to the operation of the airport, including privatization. At this point, too little is known re­garding the pros and cons of privatization or regarding how the airport would be operated or con­trolled as a private enterprise to re­spond to this question. 

Galanter: The issue is not whether LAX should be publicly or privately owned; it is how much control the City will have to regulate operations and their impact on the surrounding community and the region. 

Financially, LAX can become a significant source of revenue for the City, especially if it remains City-owned. That will require changes to the City Charter and to the landing agreements with the airlines. 

Those changes will not be diffi­cult to make. The more difficult change will be in the attitude of LAX administrators who seem to have forgotten that the airport belongs to the City and its citizens, not to the airlines. 

There are many unanswered questions about privatization and we would do well to make sure we have solid answers before we follow that road.

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