Nov. 18 — City officials on Monday unveiled a modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport that would cost an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion and pay homage to the Pacific Ocean.
Plans call for a dramatic remodeling of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and a new Midfield Satellite Concourse, resulting in the addition of 32 new airline gates capable of accommodating newer, wide-bodied jetliners.
"Today marks a major milestone in our effort to modernize this hub of the region's transportation system and to restore its status as an international gateway during a challenging era of aviation," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during a news conference at LAX.
"It's an eye-opening vision," he said. "It's truly a vision to behold, representing the best of Los Angeles."
The first phase, set for completion in mid-2013, calls for remodeling the Bradley terminal and building six new aircraft gates capable of handling super-jumbo jets, such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. By 2012, LAX is expected to serve more A380 flights than any other airport in North America.
Plans also call for building a new passenger processing center, several taxiways and a people mover tram that winds its way around the entire airport.
While a timeline remains unclear, construction of the proposed Midfield Satellite Concourse would begin sometime after the Bradley project, according to airport officials.
"We are finally one step closer to realizing our dream of making Los Angeles, once again, the home of a world-class international airport, an airport that not only meets the needs of the airlines, but exceeds the expectations of air travelers," said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who chairs the council committee that oversees LAX.
The proposed exterior design celebrates the airport's proximity to the beach. Curved stainless steel panels give the appearance of waves lapping at the terminal's rooftop. Large windows and skylights allow natural sunlight to pour into the passenger walkways.
Tall, white parabolic arches — similar to those of the iconic Theme Building — are incorporated into a two-level bridge connecting the Bradley terminal to the new midfield terminal. Travelers can opt to ride a train on the bridge's lower level, or stroll along an automated pedestrian walkway on the upper level. Viewing lounges at each end of the bridge provide views of downtown, the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
The modernistic, beach- themed concept was based on comments gathered during a series of community meetings, according to Denver-based architect Curtis Fentress, who was awarded a $41.5million, three-year design contract earlier this year.
"One of the things people really wanted was a modern building, they wanted an experience for the passenger that would be dramatic and exciting, something that people would go home and tell their friends about," Fentress said. "They wanted it to be emblematic of L.A."
The city of Los Angeles has spent more than $250 million over the past 15 years developing airport modernization plans backed by Villaraigosa and two of his predecessors. Construction of the Bradley terminal and the second-level roadway were the last major changes made at LAX, completed just before the 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles.
Airport and city officials said they remain optimistic about completing the Bradley terminal renovations within a tight, self-imposed five-year deadline.
The national recession has forced other airports across the country to scale back, postpone or completely scrub similar capital improvement projects. The project also comes as fewer travelers are passing through LAX.
The airport served nearly 68 million passengers at its peak in 2000, but is projected to handle about 59 million by the end of this year — the lowest level in 12 years.
If the airport isn't quickly modernized, then international carriers might move flights to other airports, resulting in more passenger losses and a potential hit to the regional economy, said Samuel Garrison, vice president of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
"This is absolutely vital to ensuring Los Angeles' position as a world-class destination and a global economic leader," Garrison said. "We don't really have any options if we want to keep flights and money coming in, so making sure this is done the right way is going to be a win for the entire region."