Taking Off: Hertz Rental Car outpost that will be consolidated into a future facility near LAX.

Taking Off: Hertz Rental Car outpost that will be consolidated into a future facility near LAX. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

For all those who were stuck in epic traffic jams waiting to get into Los Angeles International Airport over the holidays, relief is on the (distant) horizon as work nears on billions of dollars in airport access improvements.

Bidding on construction contracts for three major components of the $6 billion plan to improve access to LAX – a $2 billion-plus automated people mover, a $600 million rail station to connect the people mover to the region’s rail network, and a consolidated car rental facility – is expected to begin in the coming months after recent government agency approvals.

“The primary goal is to improve the ground access in and out of LAX,” said Roger Johnson, deputy executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that runs LAX. “Right now, on some days, it can take over an hour to get from the Century (105) Freeway or the 405 (freeway) to the central terminal area. The ground access needs to be fixed.”

Johnson said the goal is not only to reduce travel times to and from the terminals, but also to reduce congestion in communities surrounding the airport.

“Those roadways were designed for an airport with 40 million annual passengers and we’re now running close to 80 million annual passengers,” he said.

These access improvements are separate from the billions of dollars in terminal renovations under way at LAX, and they will be funded separately. Plans call for much of the improvements to be paid for by bonds issued by construction contractors; those bonds would be repaid by nonaviation-related revenues such as airport concessions.

Rail link at last

The access project attacks the problem from two different angles.

First, a new rail station at the end of both the under-construction Crenshaw light-rail line and the Metro Green Line will give airport passengers a long-sought link to the region’s rail network so they don’t have to take cars, taxis, or shuttles.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board last month approved the final plans for the station; its projected $586 million cost would be paid for by the first allocation of funds from the just-enacted Measure M transportation sales tax increase. Bidding is expected to begin in a few months.

For those who need rental cars, the consolidated rental facility will move the 20 or so rental agencies scattered around the area under one giant roof right off the 405. Not only would this make it easier for travelers to return their vehicles, but it also would eliminate hundreds of rental car shuttle trips to and from the terminals each day, freeing up more space there.

The LAWA board also issued a request for qualifications last month for contractors to build the consolidated rental facility. Once qualified contractors are short-listed, the formal bidding process will begin.

Two intermodal transportation stations for buses and shuttles are also planned.

All of this would be linked up by an automated people mover, capable of whisking passengers from the central terminal area to the rental facility within 10 minutes.

The LAWA board last year issued a request for qualifications for this piece of the access plan, then narrowed down the list of qualified bidders to five teams, one of which includes L.A. engineering and construction contracting giant Aecom.

Before work can begin on the consolidated car rental facility and the people mover, LAWA must certify a final environmental impact report, expected this year.

High hotel hopes

All of these improvements have been eagerly awaited by hotels and other businesses around the airport.

“As things stand now, it takes so long for people to get out of the central terminal area that my hotel members see very angry customers by the time they show up at their doors,” said Laurie Hughes, executive director of the Gateway to LA Business Improvement District. “Getting people in and out of the central terminal area and getting our customers in and out in an efficient manner is therefore a top priority, and we hope this will help.”

Hughes said the consolidated car rental facility will reduce congestion on Century Boulevard and other streets within the BID and will free up several major car rental parcels for development.

“We desperately need more commercial/retail/lifestyle centers,” she said. “So my members are eagerly awaiting what will come next once these car rental operations move to the consolidated facility.”

One of the few concerns Hughes said her hotel members have is the conversion of 98th Street into a through corridor to the consolidated rental facility. Currently, hotels use that street for loading dock operations; some of those might have to be relocated.

Meanwhile, rental car companies are also eagerly anticipating the consolidated facility.

“Consolidated car rental centers generally have proven to be a great benefit for us and our customers,” Anna Bootenhoff, spokeswoman for Hertz Corp. of Estero, Fla., said in an email. “They give travelers greater access to and from airport terminals, ease the congestion inside and outside the terminal and reduce vehicle emissions, while providing a one-stop shop for customers. Additionally, the design often allows us to provide better and quicker customer service through increased efficiencies to our operations.”

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