To applause from a City Hall audience, the Los Angeles CityCouncil on Wednesday unanimously approvedup to $4.9 billion to design, build, operate and maintain an elevated trainthat will whisk passengers in and out of LAX’s central terminal area and carrythem to a car rental facility, a ground transportation hub and Metro station onthe Crenshaw Line. The sleek people mover is a major part of L.A.’s efforts toimprove transportation in traffic-choked Southern California before the 2028Summer Olympics. The project will break ground this year, and service isexpected to begin in March 2023.
Travelersleaving Los Angeles International Airport by car, van, bus, shuttle or taxihave no choice but to wait at the chaotic curbside, often for more than half anhour, as drivers fight through crawling lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Butwithin five years, the defining experience of traveling in and out of LAX couldchange, as the city moves forward on an ambitious and long-awaited transitproject that will connect the airport to Los Angeles County’s growing masstransit system.
LosAngeles World Airports’ progress toward a transportation system that providesan alternative to driving comes years — in some cases, decades — after othermajor world airports. As flight volumes grew and traffic worsened in SouthernCalifornia, travelers learned that getting in and out of LAX could be chaotic,miserable and unpredictable. Currently, passengers and airport employees whotake transit to the airport must disembark from the Metro Green Line at theAviation/LAX station and transfer to shuttle buses.
Originalplans for the Green Line called for a direct rail connection to LAX. But in theearly 1980s, people mover technology was not widely available — at leastoutside of Disneyland — and officials could not decide how to build thestation inside the horseshoe terminal area. The extension was ultimately killedwhen the price tag on the 20-mile Norwalk-to-Redondo Beach line tripled.
Still,construction crews built a rail line stub branching off the Green Line,pointing hopefully toward the airport. Those tracks have now been connected tothe Crenshaw Line, the 8.5-mile light-rail route slated to begin service latenext year.
A$200 million-dollar Metro station at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard willserve as a transfer point to the people mover. Reaching LAX’s terminals fromthe rail station is expected take less than 10 minutes, airport officials said.The people mover trains will be driverless and will run on smaller tracks thana light-rail vehicle. Trains will run every two minutes, 24 hours a day, andwill be able to carry about 10,000 people per hour. The train will make threestops in the center of LAX’s arrivals and departures areas, where passengerswill be able to connect to nearby terminals on moving walkways.
Eastof the airport, the people mover will connect to a ground transportation hubwhere travelers can wait to be picked up by a friend or a ride-share driver, orboard shuttle buses to nearby hotels or parking lots — improvements thatofficials say should significantly reduce traffic near the terminals. Thepeople mover’s final stop, near the 405 Freeway, will be a consolidated carrental facility. The massive development will eliminate the need for thelumbering rental car shuttles that account for 1 in 5 curbside airportboardings.
Thecontract to build and run the people mover is one of the largest in cityhistory. The group of companies that won the contract is known as LAXIntegrated Express Solutions, or LINXS. Member companies include rail carmanufacturer Bombardier Transportation and construction giant FluorEnterprises. The group’s bid of $4.895 billion was 4% lower than airportofficials’ estimates and $700 million lower than other bidders, officials said.It includes a construction estimate of $1.95 billion. The airport will make sixlump-sum payments to the LINXS group between 2019 and 2022 as it meetsconstruction benchmarks, officials said. That financial arrangement is commonin Europe, and is designed to encourage solid construction, since the samegroup of companies will be paying to maintain and operate the system.
Stiffpenalties are built into the contract to discourage cost overruns and scheduledelays, some of the most frequent issues with Southern California constructionprojects. About $3.8 billion of the costs to build and run the project willcome from airport revenues. The LINXS consortium will issue tax-exempt bonds topay for the rest of the project, and the airport will pay the financing costs,leading to a total cost of up to $4.9 billion, officials said. During the25-year operating period, airport officials will make annual payments to coveroperating and maintenance costs. When the 25 years are up, in 2048, thebusiness group will return the people mover to LAX with at least five years ofuseful life left in the system, officials said.