ONTARIO - As LA/Ontario International Airport seeks out millions of additional travelers in coming years, city officials are aiming to give passengers a new way to get there.
The idea of making the airport the final destination on the Gold Line light-rail service that runs from Los Angeles to Pasadena seems to be gaining favor, Mayor Paul Leon said Tuesday.
Leon addressed the Gold Line possibility during an aviation summit at LA/Ontario International, where aviation experts and airport officials discussed the airport's future and impact on the region.
The airport, which handles about 7 million passengers a year, is on its way to becoming the second-largest in Southern California, San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt said.
With John Wayne Airport and Long Beach Airport not able to grow much, Ontario is best situated to become the major alternative to Los Angeles International Airport, he said. Within the next 25 years, LA/Ontario International's passenger count is expected to grow to 30 million.
"It will happen here because there is a political will to see it happen here," Ovitt said.
But getting here will take some doing, which is where the Gold Line comes into the picture.
In a meeting this week with officials from the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Authority, members expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of an Ontario station, Leon said.
"It gives you a destination on both ends: `I'm heading to Los Angeles' or `I'm heading to the airport in Ontario,"' Leon said.
Ontario voted late last year to become a member of the authority, a coalition of municipalities working to extend the Gold Line from Pasadena east to Montclair.
The authority's board has since approved bringing Ontario on board, but is now waiting on city councils in each of the cities along the line's route to formally agree, said board Chairman Jon Blickenstaff.
An advisory committee was formed Monday to determine how to go about studying the feasibility of bringing a station to Ontario, Blickenstaff said.
He cautioned that there hasn't been an official discussion about the route the train might take from Montclair to Ontario.
Both Leon and Blickenstaff noted that any station in Ontario would be many years away. The effort to bring the extension to the Montclair Transit Center - which has been actively in the works since 1999 - is still at least a decade from completion.
"Ten years to Montclair is an optimistic target," Blickenstaff said.
Meanwhile, the future is now for LA/Ontario International, said attendees at Tuesday's summit.
Sonjia Murray, director of SH&E International Air Transport Consultancy, said Ontario keeps becoming a more attractive option for airlines.
She cited the airport's prime location, its room for expansion, the uncommon level of support it has from local leaders and the reputation of its owner, Los Angeles World Airports, which also owns LAX.
"Maybe not tomorrow, but five, 10 and 15 years from now, this is going to be the place you're going to want to be and where you're going to want to have been invested," Murray said.
Jock O'Connell, principal consultant for The ClarkStreet Group, a firm specializing in international commerce, underscored the value of the airport in attracting economic activity to the area.
"You can build a better mousetrap, but the world won't beat a path to your door unless there's a two-mile-long runway in your front yard," he said.
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