LAX-Green Line Link Will Be Key to Commute

#7 AIRPORT CONNECTION

While billions of dollars have been sunk into building a subway and light rail network for Los Angeles, transit planners often dismiss it as a "boutique" system nice to look at, but impractical.

To yank people out of their cars and onto trains, the system needs to fulfill a simple purpose: take them where they need to go.

A rail link to Los Angeles International Airport would be a start. Given the bottlenecks caused by post-9/11 security checkpoints, drivers may just be fed up enough to use it.

In the early 1990s when the MTA was building the $950 million Green Line, the closest stop was the Aviation Station, about 2.2 miles to the south of the airport.

MTA was concerned that electricity used by light rail might interfere with the airport's radar and communications systems. It was also unable to raise the $500 million that the airport spur would have cost. Instead, a free bus shuttle carts people back and forth, but that system is clumsy and full of delays, with shuttles often mired in traffic.

Connecting the Green Line with LAX would skirt the delays and create a consistent system run on a regular schedule. And for people racing to catch a flight, consistency is key.

Even now, the line enjoys a committed following. Defying early projections of weekday ridership in the 10,000 range (it was initially dubbed the "train to nowhere"), the Green Line attracts nearly 27,000 weekday riders. Most are commuters transferring to the Metro Blue line, which runs between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Despite its high usage, connecting the Green Line with LAX is near the bottom of the MTA's priorities. ""It's an idea that's out there and something that's a good idea but it hasn't been a priority," said Renee Berlin, the MTA's director of South Bay area planning team.

And yet the idea remains popular politically. L.A. Mayor James Hahn committed to having the Green Line connect to the LAX terminals.

In his airport renovation plan, as well as others under consideration, a rail-based tram system would connect the terminals with a centralized car rental facility and Aviation station.

Like the rest of the airport construction project, much of the costs would come from the airlines, federal funds and fees collected by the airport on everything from passengers to the taxis and shuttles circling Century Boulevard.

Linking rail lines to airports has worked wonders in other cities around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta and Washington. Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Portland International Airport and San Francisco International Airport all can be reached by rail.

In Newark, more than 5,000 passengers use the service daily; Portland gets 4,000 and San Francisco has attracted 25,000 daily passengers since opening last June. The number is projected to rise to more than 70,000 by 2010.

At LAX, airport officials expect that within 20 years the number of passengers using the airport annually will rise to 70 million from its current 50 million.

Part of the challenge is keeping the traffic burden down on the 405. Diverting some passengers to outlying airports is part of the solution, but with numbers that high, connecting the Green Line to LAX is also necessary.

A rapid and efficient transportation system that connects to the airport "makes much more sense than it did 10 years ago," said Michael Collins, executive vice president of LA Inc., the convention and visitors bureau. "And I would say it made a lot of sense 10 years ago."
AIRPORT CONNECTION

Proposal: Connect the Green Line to LAX, either through an MTA rail spur or tram link



Obstacles: Funding, political and voter apathy and interference with airport communications systems



Cost: About $500 million for either option



Time Frame: Between five and 10 years

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