L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin: Airlines may not want it, but LAX must be connected to rail

Better ground transporeation may not be a pirority for airlines at LAX. But Mike Bonin said it must improve no matter what. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Better ground transportation may not be a priority for airlines at LAX. But L.A. council member Mike Bonin said it must improve no matter what. Wikimedia Commons photo.

It was news earlier this week when LAX airport director Gina Marie Lindsey said airlines might push back against two ambitious ground transportation projects important to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city and counter officials.

The comments, which you can read here, were a somewhat rare expression of honesty by a public official. Lindsey said airlines — her tenants — don’t necessary want an Automated People Mover or a Ground Transportation Center, mainly because they’ll have to pay for them, either directly or indirectly. Our friends at CurbedLA picked up on this, and the commenters have been pretty harsh to Lindsey.

But L.A. councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes the airport, told me what Lindsey said isn’t really a big deal. Whether airlines want it or or not, he suggested, the city will build what it needs.

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti wants better LAX ground transportation. But do airlines?

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A new LAX ground transportation center could look like this. But do airlines even want it? Rendering courtesy of L.A. World Airports.

Los Angeles International Airport executive director Gina Marie Lindsey says airlines have little interest in two projects favored by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti — an intermodal transportation center and an automated people mover.

She made the comments at Monday’s Board of Airport Commissioners meeting. Several members suggested to Lindsey that more efficient ground transportation — and thus less terminal area congestion –would make for happier airlines, but Lindsey pushed back against that assertion.

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L.A. Council Member Mike Bonin wants to see LAX ground transport center — and soon

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The process is still ongoing, but Los Angeles Council Member Mike Bonin has made his decision. He wants Los Angeles International Airport to build a new ground transportation center about a mile east of the terminals, one that will connect with two Metro trains — the Green Line and the Crenshaw Line.

The center, pictured above, would connect with an people mover built by the airport that would take passengers to terminals. But passengers could actually check in and drop their bags at the center. They wouldn’t need to lug them on the people mover.

The major problem is that both Metro trains would have to be re-routed from their current paths to reach the center. It’s certainly possible, but Metro officials told me recently that such an exercise is difficult. And Metro has to go through a whole process, mandated by the feds, before it can choose how it will connect its trains to LAX. (A cheaper option would be for the airport to build a people mover and have it go to where there is already a Metro station.)

On Monday, Bonin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti met with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in Washington to discuss the ground transportation proposal. Bonin said it went well.

“It was good to talk to the Secretary of Transportation to make sure that we have partners at the federal level who can help us navigate this and make sure everything goes smoothly,” Bonin said. “They understand that L.A. has historically failed to make the common sense connection to the airport through rail. They seemed eager to support us in our efforts to correct that mistake.”

A ground transportation hub has always been in the airport’s plans, but under former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, no one talked about it, and it was always considered something that would happen far in the future. Now, however, it seems urgent.

Bonin told me city officials hope they can break ground by the time President Obama leaves office in January 2017. Considering the hurdles Metro must clear before then, that seems ambitious. But who knows?

Whatever happens, Bonin said city officials want to make sure the project is done right.

“I think one of the things that the mayor and I have in common is a shared agenda in transportation and a shared desire to make sure that the mistakes that have been made in the past are not made again,” Bonin said. “We don’t want to have a reputation as the city that almost does the right thing in transportation. It’s not good enough to almost get to the airport. We have to connect.”

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