LAX Reveals Plans for Nice but Very Expensive Bradley West Terminal Expansion

I know, I know. I’ve had a fair number of posts on LAX lately, and I’m sorry about that for those not impacted by this airport. But I think this should be the last one for a little while.

As we all know, LAX is not exactly the world’s favorite airport. In fact, most people who have to fly through the the place, especially from an international perspective, find it to be a miserable experience. This is definitely not a secret, but after many proposed fixes kept failing to happen, I think most just figured it would never change. I had the chance to attend a reception last week where they unveiled the latest design effort to fix the place up. What do I think? It’s a beautiful design, but it’s a complete and total waste of money.

Let’s start with the good. Here’s a shot of what it will look like. This would be the view if I were looking from the ocean toward the east.

P1000346

As you can see, it will ultimately add two concourses to the Bradley Terminal with a host of other stuff in there as well. Fentress Architects, the same people that did Denver’s airport, came up with the design, and they were at the reception to explain to everyone how it took the LA environment into account and incorporated the ocean, the mountains, etc. They even said, and I swear I’m not making this up, that they’re trying to change “LAX into LA-Wow.” Now I’m the first to admit that I’m not a design kind of guy, but I suppose I understand what they were trying to do. My problem is that they shouldn’t have been trying to do it.

We heard a lot from Roger Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of LAWA and head of this project, about how this is going to be an airport that people talk about. It’s going to be an airport that when people arrive, they tell their friends and family that they have to go see it. Who the heck cares? I want an airport that’s easy. I don’t care if it’s pretty. If you go for “pretty,” you end up wasting money (at least $6 or 7 billion in this case) on something that ultimately either leads to higher airfares or loss of flights because it’s too expensive to fly there. To make it a little more clear what they’re trying to do, I’ve gone back to Google Maps. First up we have the plans for Phase I.

Bradley Phase I

So, in the first phase, they’re going to build a new concourse to replace the existing one at the Bradley Terminal. The north side will open in Jan 2012 with the south side opening in July of that year. They’re staggered because of the way they need to knock down the old one to keep enough gates operating during construction. You will notice that the current A380 gate on the north side will actually stick around after this is done because it’s grandfathered in and can’t be replaced.

They will also replace the two side security areas with one large one in the middle of the existing facility. All of this should be completed by September 2013 with a price tag of around $2 billion. That’s right. We get 14 gates, 3 more than before, along with a new fire station and some taxiway changes for a mere $2 billion. Keep in mind that JetBlue built an entirely new terminal in New York with 26 gates for $800 million (though they didn’t have to move taxiways around). This money is all being spent on what Roger Johnson admitted was an “expensive concept.”

But the absurdity really doesn’t begin until Phase II. This part hasn’t been funded yet, but it is expected to cost $3 to 4 billion. (I’ll put money down that the costs double by the time it’s done.) Here’s my map of the second phase.

Bradley Phase II

As you can see, they will now build an additional concourse further to the west. The parking lots for Terminals 3/4 will now be razed and replaced with a new “Central Terminal Area” to serve the midfield concourse. There will be underground parking (and the TSA is ok with this?) to replace the existing parking lots. An above ground people mover (high enough to accommodate an A380 underneath) will connect the CTA, existing Bradley, and the new midfield concourse. But the most shocking thing is that the CTA will only serve the midfield concourse while the existing Bradley terminal will continue to have its own check in area. My head hurts.

And the best part of all? This will not expand the number of gates on property. Thanks to an ill-advised agreement with the surrounding communities, the number of gates is fixed at the airport, so they’ll just close down the remote gates at the far west end of the airport when these new ones open.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. There’s a separate project that has yet to be funded that will put a people mover around the airport and connect it out to the parking lots and metro rail. I like that idea, but I hate the idea of spending what will likely exceed $10 billion on a project that could be done for far less if we weren’t trying to dazzle the world.

In my opinion, we could ditch the fancy design and put function over form here. Yes, I’d like to see a nice open airport with lots of light, but does it need to have a roof that looks like waves of the ocean? I would say not. I’d much rather have the user fees stay lower so that we can attract more service. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things happening in this project that should certainly be happening, such as . . .

  • Sterile connectors between Terminal 3, 4, and Bradley will be built so that travelers don’t have to leave security to get between them all. I wish we would see more connectors like that built all around the airport so connections could flow more freely.

  • There will be far better shopping and dining options at Bradley. I realize that’s not hard to do since it’s pretty much devoid of everything behind security now, but this is a big deal in terms of passenger convenience.

  • This project eliminates the need to use the remote gates. Amen.

  • The new concourse will give more space between Bradley and T3 on one side and T4 on the other. That means that planes from each terminal will be able to push back simultaneously and taxi out without having to take turns waiting for the other side to go. This will be a huge productivity gainer for the airport and especially for American and Alaska which sit on the other side of this alleyway.

  • They say they’ll redo the customs and immigration facilities so you no longer have to push your heavy luggage up a ramp after you get through the process. There is nothing like watching someone who is exhausted after 12 hours on a plane have to push their luggage up.

If just those things alone were fixed, you’d see a significant increase in user satisfaction at the airport. I’ll say it again, I think the design looks good, but we don’t need a good-looking design to be a functional airport. The more money that gets spent, the more that has to come out of passenger pockets down the line.

See more pictures from the reception

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23 Comments on "LAX Reveals Plans for Nice but Very Expensive Bradley West Terminal Expansion"

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The Traveling Optimist
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The Traveling Optimist
Call me crazy but I’ve always enjoyed LAX as both a destination and connecting point. It wasn’t “convenient” to change from UA to NZ but I knew better than to schedule a connection with only an hour between flights. I don’t mind the ocean wave concept. Look what DEN has. The cost? Well, if it can’t be spent on adding gates it would certainly be better used to improve ONT or BUR, I agree. Only thing about “LA-WOW” that’s fatally flawed is that no one talks about or goes to airports as places to hang out anymore. All the goodies… Read more »
Ron
Guest

How does the Bradley expansion mesh with the LAX Master Plan, which calls for razing Terminals 1, 2, and 3? It looks like at least the north side of Bradley will need to get reconfigured. And the Master Plan calls for a tunnel to the midfield concourse rather than a bridge. So it makes even less sense to spend all this money on Bradley, knowing that major parts of it will have to go in 10 years. Or perhaps the Master Plan is not really meant to be implemented?

Mike
Guest

Just a bit over the top…
(rolls eyes)
I’m sure taxpayers and fliers will be thrilled when they get the bill.

Bill
Guest
Frederico’s Folly…DIA = “Done In August”…There are a hundred other reasons you missed in criticizing the airport development plan, but in the end – only one thing matters and that is perception. The airport is the first and last thing a visitor sees, or in the case of a connecting passenger, the only thing they see of a city. How many times have you been to a city (the old Detroit terminal, for instance) only to think about what a dump this city must be. They’ve gone a long way in correcting that and the perception of Detroit is better.… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
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The Traveling Optimist
A respectful rejoinder – Aircraft design serves aerodynamic economics by creating sleek, “jet set” form. Terminal designs from the great Aero Saarinen mirrored this aesthetic at JFK (I believe JetBlue’s new terminal is simply a modernization around the shell of the old TWA terminal?) and at Dulles, the greatest and most simplistic design still. All they ever have to do at Dulles is make the building longer. That said, it is always nice and appreciated, as Bill suggests, to evoke the emotion, romance and long gone glamour of flying if possible. United’s Terminal 1 at ORD is old news but… Read more »
Eric
Guest
I am curious as to how and why the north A380 gate was grandfathered. I don’t know the details yet but that is absurd especially for an airport, essentially on a piece of equipment. Would you happen to know? Did Mr. Johnson give a breakdown on the cost of relocating the taxi way? The bridge at DEN is good in concept but partially poor in functionality. There are two levels in the bridge. The lower level is for passengers who choose to walk from the main terminal to the A concourse. The upper level is for PAX inbound from international… Read more »
Dale
Guest

I passed through the Bradley Terminal in December 2008. It is a dump. I was embarrassed that foreign travellers were exposed to this view of America.

Whoever controls this facility should immediately do two things:

1. Hire Disney ($1,000 ought to do it because their own executives have to pass through) to show the Bradley folks how to move people.

2. Fire the beauracrats who presently run the place, they obviously don’t have a clue.

Dale

mbaughman
Guest
CF, these are big projects that take may years and will last for a very long time and one only has to pass through the midfield additions to Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport to understand what the “we can’t afford it now” thinking brings. We can never afford these. We never have this kind of money laying around. At Dulles, Terminals C/D were a “temporary” stopgap which have long outlived their initial purpose and are a horror to use. They are, however, functional and by the standard you are setting, this should be the model. Fortunately the Washington Airport Authority had… Read more »
InsureItGirl
Guest

Umm, you’re an idiot. The total value of the construction project is $1.5 billion. My company is insuring it. Where are you getting these ridiculous numbers from?

Mike
Guest
Is the pricetag steep? Yes. Will it *significantly* improve the image of LAX? Yes. At the time, CPK @ HKG set a world record for construction costs (US $20 bil in 1998). Yet, visit it today, and the airport is phenomenal. Everything — transportation, check in, security, baggage, etc comes together smoothly to make for an excellent end-user experience. Though I’ve flown through HKG too many times to count, I still love going through it. The same can be said about YVR, which added 9 more gates among others to the tune of 1.4 billion. Yes, it is possible to… Read more »
ndongo
Guest
I guess some one had to always say something. I hope people understand how long it took before they even start building this new airport. the writter came up with an example of a new york 26 gates airport built by one of the airlines with 800 million. for god shake. Have you ever been to new york airport call jfk. for all the beauty of that city some one for once had the audacity to mention new york airport jfk. that is the ugliest airport I have ever seen for a big city is it a mokery regarless of… Read more »
Mike
Guest

Wow, I really dont want to sit next to you on an airline….bitching the whole way.

ndongo
Guest

L.A. live in downtown los angeles single handely change the perception of downtown los angeles. meanning beauty and money have an impact in life.I do not see anything wrong in having both beauty and easy airport to move around. yes money will be an impact but this los angeles a world class city . if you had a choice to leave in beverly hills and watts what will you choose? if you can afford it. I am sure some one will afford it.

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[…] I wrote about this in 2008, it was expected to open with 14 gates beginning this month. The entire project was around $2 billion, which included a new taxiway, fire station, etc. The […]

Canetoader
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I’m the other way around: I find international easier than domestic at LAX. Except for when the US Customs folks decide to roster-on four officers for the five flights that are landing within half an hour. That sucks!

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[…] had plenty of criticism for this project, but it’s hard to deny that the new concourse is a vast improvement over what’s there […]

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[…] had plenty of criticism for this project, but it’s hard to deny that the new concourse is a vast improvement over what’s there […]

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