In a proposal that would dramatically alter the main roadway to Los Angeles International Airport, city officials are considering double-decking Century Boulevard to relieve gridlock that chokes city streets around the world's fifth-busiest airport.
Building an elevated six-lane concrete roadway over Century -- similar to the raised carpool lanes on the Harbor Freeway south of downtown -- is one of eight alternatives that officials will unveil tonight to reduce congestion around LAX.
The proposals, which also include adding two under-runway tunnels on Sepulveda Boulevard, were devised over the last several months by airport-area residents and the city agency that operates LAX.
It's likely that a combination of the eight traffic options will be included in a modernization plan for the airport being developed by representatives from the city's airport agency, the cities of El Segundo, Inglewood and Culver City, community groups and Los Angeles County. Officials expect to release the plan this winter.
"No decisions have been made at this point," said Lydia Kennard, executive director of the airport agency, Los Angeles World Airports. "But now we're coming into some tough issues and some tough discussions."
In addition to double-decking Century Boulevard, which is lined with hotels and other airport-related businesses, alternatives include providing direct airport access from the 405 Freeway several blocks to the east and extending the Metro Rail Green Line.
Such measures to move traffic more efficiently into and out of LAX are just part of a plan being crafted to fix the city's 77-year-old airport. The blueprint would replace former Mayor James K. Hahn's controversial $11-billion modernization proposal.
City officials agreed to shelve Hahn's proposal and start over in exchange for a promise by airport-area communities to drop federal and state lawsuits that challenged his plan.
Despite the community input into the proposal being developed under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, there already is concern about it in communities around LAX.
"LAX strikes again with plans to move the airport closer to homes in Westchester/Playa del Rey. The airport has some new ideas that look a lot like expansion," read a postcard sent by the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion to residents urging them to attend tonight's meeting at LAX, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Flight Path Learning Center, 6661 W. Imperial Highway.
The new traffic measures mark the third time in 12 years that officials have tried to devise a politically palatable proposal to redo LAX.
The cost so far: more than $150 million.
Hahn eliminated Mayor Richard Riordan's controversial plan to expand the airport to handle 89 million annual passengers when he introduced a proposal that would require most passengers to check in at a facility in a neighborhood near the San Diego Freeway. The airport currently handles about 61.5 million passengers a year.
From the start, critics said Hahn didn't include them in the planning process, and security experts said passengers who used the remote check-in center were vulnerable to attacks by bombs in luggage and vehicles.
The city's agreement with communities around LAX allows city officials to keep parts of Hahn's plan that residents liked, such as a consolidated rental car center in parking Lot C and a new terminal that would be constructed near the sand dunes on the airport's western edge.
It also requires them to restudy controversial elements such as the remote check-in center. In the new plan, officials must find a way to spread out 60% of the vehicle traffic that would have been absorbed by this facility. That's where the new traffic proposals come in.
Planners say they have two choices: They can bring a majority of vehicles directly into the airport off the 405 Freeway or they can route people around the airport using the 105 Freeway and bring them into LAX from the south.The eight possibilities are:
* Providing direct airport access on an interchange off the 405 Freeway onto Century Boulevard. A six-lane double-deck roadway for vehicles traveling to and from LAX would be built on the south side of the boulevard. Local traffic would use the north side and lanes under the raised roadway.
* Bringing vehicles directly off the 405 Freeway onto a double-deck roadway on 98th Street and into the airport. To leave LAX, vehicles would use an elevated expressway over Century. In this alternative, the double-decking over Century would be pushed to the south onto property where cargo facilities currently exist.
* Avoiding the complexities required to build dedicated interchanges from the 405 Freeway onto Century -- which would entail demolishing several office buildings -- by building an interchange at Arbor Vitae and the freeway to bring vehicles onto 98th Street.
* Building a terminal on the Park One lot at the airport's entrance where many passengers could check in for their flights.
* Constructing two new freeway interchanges to bring vehicles into the airport, from Lennox Boulevard and the 405 Freeway and from the 105 Freeway just east of Aviation Boulevard. This would require building roads below street level to avoid interfering with air traffic control equipment.
* Boring two tunnels, one on either side of the existing Sepulveda Boulevard tunnel under the south runways. A study done in 1992 pegged the cost at $500 million.
* Expanding the 105 Freeway across the airport's south side to reach a new terminal near the sand dunes. This would require digging tunnels under the airport's two sets of parallel runways and bringing the road above ground at the terminal's entrance.
* Creating a road around the airport to bring vehicles to a new terminal near the sand dunes. Vehicles would use the 105 Freeway on the south, which would be extended along the airport's western edge to Westchester Parkway on the north.
Officials sought to dispel criticism that the last proposal mirrored a controversial provision in Riordan's plan that called for a ring road encircling LAX to reach a large terminal on its western edge. The road envisioned in the new plan would not use existing surface streets, except for Westchester Parkway, they said.
"There's only so many solutions to any given problem," Kennard said. "That's why you see variations on a theme."
Planners said they aren't wedded to any specific concept, adding that each one has major obstacles to overcome before it could be included in any airport modernization proposal.
"All of these have issues," said Nick Johnson, a consultant from Johnson Aviation, who is working on the proposal. "A lot of work will have to go into having them solve problems rather than create new ones."
The traffic measures are the first in a series of proposals that will be unveiled by the city's airport agency in coming months. In September, the agency will reveal several options for LAX's northern runway complex.
Airport officials hoped to unveil the runway proposal this week, but postponed it after Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl told Kennard that residents were upset about rumors that the city planned to propose expanding the two northern runways.
Rosendahl wrote to residents that he met with Kennard "who agreed to table such a proposal after I told her it should not be raised unless and until the Federal Aviation Administration can demonstrate to us with hard data that genuine safety concerns warrant even raising the subject."
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in an interview last fall that the city must move the two runways on the north airfield farther apart to eliminate close calls between airplanes on the ground. A project to separate the two runways on the south airfield is underway.
Hahn's plan proposed moving the inner runway closer to the terminals, requiring officials to demolish Terminals 1, 2 and 3. This measure would cost around $2 billion. Officials have also considered moving the outer runway closer to Westchester.
"If it was not a safety problem, there would be no motivation to touch the north airfield," Kennard said. "But the FAA said there's a safety problem and its incumbent on us to fix it."
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