City Grounds LAX Overhaul in Exchange for Airport-Area Communities Drop of Lawsuits

The city's airport agency will start its third attempt in 11 years to devise a palatable proposal to upgrade the 77-year-old facility as soon as the litigation is dropped in state and federal court.


Paving the way for the city to draft a new plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved an agreement to shelve an $11-billion overhaul in exchange for airport-area communities dropping lawsuits challenging the plan.

The city's airport agency will start its third attempt in 11 years to devise a palatable proposal to upgrade the 77-year-old facility as soon as the litigation is dropped in state and federal court. To begin work on a new plan, airport officials will meet with residents and airlines to come up with ways to improve security at LAX and update its terminals. The process will allow Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who voted against former Mayor James K. Hahn's controversial LAX plan in 2004, to craft his own airport update.

"This is a rational community-sensitive plan that will allow for sensible improvements to be made to LAX," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The new plan is expected to do away with the most despised elements of Hahn's blueprint, such as building a passenger check-in center near the San Diego Freeway and demolishing Terminals 1, 2 and 3 and parking garages in the central terminal area.

The proposal will probably include a consolidated rental car center, a new terminal on the airport's western edge and new gates to park large aircraft, including the Airbus A380, at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The agreement also allows the Los Angeles airport agency to start construction on the southernmost runway at LAX without worrying that a judge will order work to stop. The runway -- expected to be closed from April through December -- will be moved 55 feet closer to El Segundo. A taxiway will be installed between two runways to try to reduce close calls between aircraft.

All other parties to the deal, including Inglewood, El Segundo, Culver City, Los Angeles County and the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, a residents group, have approved the settlement.

Those entities sued the city of Los Angeles last year after the council approved Hahn's plan, which used environmental studies drafted for a controversial expansion proposal crafted under former Mayor Richard Riordan.

Residents alleged in state and federal lawsuits that Hahn's plan understated impacts on noise, air pollution and traffic.

But Villaraigosa and Lydia Kennard, director of the city's airport agency, brought the parties together and worked for months to reach an agreement.

As part of the settlement, the airport agency agreed to limit the number of gates where airplanes park at LAX to 163.

Airport officials also promised to provide $266 million over 10 years to Inglewood, El Segundo and Los Angeles County to soundproof homes, provide job training, find ways to lessen traffic, and remove the abandoned streets in the sand dunes on the airport's western edge.

The agency will also form a five-county working group to discuss how to spread air traffic among the region's airports.

"Contrary to the paradigm of an airport proprietor, the thinking here is that it actually makes a tremendous amount of sense to cooperate ... with your neighbors, and, in this case, the region as a whole," said Kelly McDowell, the mayor of El Segundo.



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