Los Angeles officials are drawing a new route aimed at finally closing perhaps the biggest gap in the region's mass transit system: A lack of a rail line flowing directly into Los Angeles International Airport.
Planners envision a new light rail line that would run along Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence Avenue between Exposition Boulevard and the airport. Although still in the early planning stages, officials believe that the line could be opened by 2015 if they can secure the $1 billion needed to build it.
The proposal is the latest in the long, star-crossed efforts of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to get light rail to LAX.
The Green Line, which runs along the 105 Freeway from Norwalk to El Segundo, was supposed to terminate at the airport. But budget problems prompted the MTA to scrap the LAX connection.
As a result, getting to the airport by commuter rail isn't easy: Travelers must transfer, with luggage and, in some cases, small children, from the Metro Green Line station to a shuttle bus for the short ride into the terminal.
Transit officials are not giving up on the Green Line extension. But they see many benefits in focusing on the Crenshaw line.
"Obviously, Crenshaw is very heavily traveled. It meets all the criteria for a good line. It goes through commercial areas. It goes near schools," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, an MTA board member who for the last 12 years has worked to get the proposed line built.
Crenshaw is one of the county's busiest busways, with an average of 35,000 boardings a day, according to transit officials. The proposed rail line would record an estimated 43,400 daily boardings by 2025.
The MTA is currently on a mass-transit building boom. It's now constructing an extension of the Gold Line into East Los Angeles and recently approved an extension of the Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley and construction of the Exposition Line from downtown to Culver City.
The Crenshaw line and the LAX extension of the Green Line would have to compete for funding with the much-discussed -- and very expensive -- idea Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has championed of building a subway down Wilshire Boulevard from the Mid-Wilshire district to Santa Monica.
"If the [state infrastructure] bond measure passes, Metro will have more discretionary money available for new projects," agency spokesman Marc Littman said.
The Green Line was planned to end at the airport's long-term Parking Lot C, where passengers could board a small automated train called a people mover to the terminal. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the airport area, believes that it's time to proceed.
"It's a no-brainer to me that we need light rail into LAX," he said. "That will take a tremendous stress off of our highways and also be better for the consumer."
Rosendahl also envisions someday linking the extended Green Line to Santa Monica and the Westside's Exposition Line. At his request, the City Council recently dedicated $250,000 for an MTA study on the feasibility of doing that.
County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who sits on the MTA board, supports both projects.
The Green Line should be extended in an effort to "undo historically bad choices by the MTA," his transportation deputy, Michael Cano, said. He blamed local officials for acting to protect parking revenues and shuttle bus operators.
The Green Line extension also raised concerns with the Federal Aviation Administration about possible interference with aircraft because the train was supposed to cross near the ends of two runways. The proposed Crenshaw line, by contrast, would enter the airport to the north, far from any flight paths.
Until a rail line is built, more than 1 million travelers a year are boarding FlyAway shuttles from downtown Los Angeles and Van Nuys to the Los Angeles airport.
More than 70% of the more than 150,000 riders who have boarded at Union Station since March got there by bus, train, shuttle or taxi, demonstrating their commitment to mass transit when available, said Paul Haney, deputy executive director of airports and security for the city agency that operates LAX.
"There is less congestion, less emissions, and the experience of using the airport will be much more pleasant for travelers as a result of it," he said, noting that automobile traffic is down 26% in the terminal since Sept. 11, 2001. The number of airline travelers, by comparison, is down just 6% over the last five years.
To further reduce car traffic, airport officials plan to open a total of eight FlyAway locations around the county by 2010.
Shuttle service from Van Nuys Airport and MTA headquarters at One Gateway Boulevard, near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, costs $3 each way. For an additional $5, domestic travelers can now check luggage curbside at FlyAway stations.
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