Approval of LAX Contract Expected

The Los Angeles Airport Commission is expected today to award a multimillion-dollar contract -- the largest single pact in the city's history -- to overhaul the aging Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

Clark Construction Group and McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., which bid on the project as a joint venture, submitted the only proposal for the $503-million contract to rebuild the 23-year-old terminal from the inside out.

Los Angeles International Airport officials said they spent months whittling the price down from the firms' original bid of $651 million. The complex project requires the contractor to do the work in phases so the 34 airlines that operate in the Bradley terminal can continue flying 10 million customers a year throughout construction.

"This is the equivalent of taking John Wayne Airport and redoing it while it continues to operate," said Jim Ritchie, a deputy executive director at the city's airport agency.

The terminal upgrade will be the first major construction in LAX concourses since the double-deck roadway and the Bradley building were built for the 1984 Olympics. The project, expected to total $723.5 million by the time all related work is completed, will commence while officials are spending $333 million to move the southernmost runway to improve safety.

Starting in January, passengers can expect to see plywood encircling ticket counters and waiting areas at gates, open ceilings and lots of construction workers. Up to 400 craftsmen will be on the site at a time, installing new paging, air conditioning and electrical systems, elevators and escalators. They also will incorporate truck-sized explosives-detection machines into the building's underground baggage system.

Although the 38-month project won't add a significant amount of space to the outdated terminal, airlines say it will help LAX compete against more modern airports for lucrative international service.

"The city is a decade behind every other major U.S. international gateway city in modernizing their international terminal," said Frank Clark, executive director of the nonprofit organization that represents airlines operating at the Bradley terminal. "We can't wait to go forward." (Clark is not connected with the construction company.)

Many consider the Bradley terminal to be an embarrassment to the city. Travelers who described their experiences on an Internet bulletin board dubbed it the "worst terminal in the Western world," where "customs was a nightmare" and lines were "a mile long."

It's not only crowded, but the pipes leak, elevators and escalators routinely break down, and airlines rely on Post-it notes stuck by their names on signage at the terminal entrance to direct travelers to the appropriate ticket counter for check-in. People who come to pick up passengers often are stuck in the dark, dingy waiting area downstairs with no diversions.

Officials put plans to redo the terminal on hold after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The effort was restarted in 2003 and with an estimated cost of $225 million. Since then, the city has added plans to build new loading bridges and slightly expand gate areas to accommodate the massive Airbus A380 and other large aircraft.

A $140-million project to add large explosives-detection machines to the facility's baggage system also contributed to the delay and the estimate, which more than doubled. Officials say taking the machines out of lobbies and putting them into a new baggage system will help reduce lines at ticket counters and on sidewalks that experts say are vulnerable to a terrorist attack with a luggage or car bomb.

The federal government is expected to reimburse a portion of the baggage system's costs. The rest of the money for the overall project will come from federal ticket fees and airline revenue.

Revamping the baggage system will require workers to build a temporary luggage-sorting area on the airfield so they can rip out a tangle of bag belts under the terminal and install 2 1/2 miles of new belts.

The Bradley terminal renovation will provide new conveniences for passengers, including a $50-million information technology package that features digital signage that will automatically update flight information.

But the long-term gains will require some short-term pain. Passengers traveling on international flights should check the city's website at for information on how the project is affecting ticket counters and security checkpoints and to learn whether they need to arrive early.

Concessions in the terminal's lobby will remain open during construction.

Officials worked with the contractor to try to limit inconveniences to travelers. The project proposal started with 18 phases, but to save money, the city's airport agency and the developers reduced the number to six, Clark said.

Bethesda, Md.-based Clark Construction Group and St. Louis, Mo.-based McCarthy Building Cos. are massive construction firms. They have done work at other airports, including Washington Dulles, SeattleTacoma and Dallas/Fort Worth international airfields. They also build hospitals, schools and jails.

Los Angeles officials attribute the receiving of just one bid to the fact that many contractors already are busy building projects downtown and for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The complexity of the job, which will require all construction workers to pass background checks for badges from the city's airport agency, also may have caused some companies to shy away from the project.

"This is going to be the most complicated airport development project in the U.S. in the last 20 years," Clark said.

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Times staff writer Steve Hymon contributed to this report.



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