LAX is About to Spend a Crazy Amount of Money, and I Like the Plan

LAX - Los Angeles

I’m generally not shy about criticizing LAX for overspending on silly projects. Oh sure, the new Bradley Terminal was needed, but it could have been done for a lot less without hurting the passenger experience. But now, the airport has approved a plan to spend $4 billion on a whole bunch of other improvements outside the airport itself. That’s a lot of money, but so far, this looks like money well-spent.

LAX Landside Improvement Project

My not-so-fancy map above (fancy rendering available here) shows just what’s happening here, but it probably needs some decoding. The central piece of this plan involves an automated people mover that will run down the center of the terminal area. The recommendation was to go with what they call a “spine” in the terminal area instead of a loop. That means there are only 3 stops (aligned with the roadways that cross today).

This will save money and reduce complexity a great deal. I like that. It will also make it quicker to get to the high-numbered terminals and from the low-numbered terminals. (In a loop, you’d have to go through all the other terminals before getting to your stop, but now you don’t.) But it does mean longer walks are required to get between the stations and the terminals. It looks like United drew the short straw here and will see the longest walks to its terminals 7 and 8 at the southeast of the terminal area. But the parking garages will also be connected to the walkways, so it will make for easy walking designed for people with luggage.

Once this people mover gets outside the airport, a large swath of LAX-induced destruction will take place to make room for a ton of development. The first stop will be the west Intermodal Transportation Facility. This will sit partially on the eastern end of the mammoth long term parking Lot C. The other half will sit on what today is a rental car lot for Avis, but that won’t be needed anymore.

The west Intermodal Transportation Facility will have a big garage for long term parking (the primary reason for this facility’s existence), a spot to drop passengers off, and a bunch of shuttles (I think). The idea is to create a place where people can drop off travelers without having to go into the central terminal area. Though it’s important to note that they are going to keep the terminal area as is so people can drive in if they want. And with less traffic, that should be a better experience.

The next stop on the people mover is the east Intermodal Transportation Facility. This will also have long term parking, but more importantly, it will be at the 96th St/Aviation stop on the Metro rail. This is going to be built for the new Crenshaw Metro rail line which will go north through Inglewood, Hyde Park, Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park before meeting the Expo line. That heads west to Culver City and Santa Monica or east to go to downtown LA.

This new station will also have some service from the Green line. The Green line was incredibly built to stop 2 miles short of LAX thanks to powerful lobbying forces against public transit. You have to take a very slow shuttle bus into the airport today. But when the new station opens, it will come up to 96th St/Aviation as well. The Green line goes south to El Segundo and Redondo Beach. It also goes east through Hawthorne and Lynwood before ending in Norwalk. It crosses the Blue line, which goes north to downtown LA and south to Long Beach (where there’s a stop only a 15 minute walk from my house).

That’s a long way of saying that this station will actually be fairly well-connected to a lot of places.

After that stop, the people mover ends at the new consolidated rental car center. Anyone who has rented a car at LAX knows that this is something that’s sorely needed. Today the rental car companies all have their own facilities scattered everywhere. They are generally in places that don’t provide the easiest freeway access. And it can be a real pain to find the drop location once you return. All that goes away with this new facility, which will actually be right next to the 405 freeway.

How are they getting all the land for the east Intermodal Transportation Facility and the rental car center? It’s all going to sit on top of a lost neighborhood, Manchester Square. Manchester Square, everything within the red border you see in the image above, was a small working class neighborhood that came up around World War II. But over the last 20 years, LAX has been buying up land bit by bit directly from the homeowners. What you see today is mere remains – mostly empty lots punctuated with dilapidated houses. You can see a map of the properties that still need to be bought.

As I said earlier, this is a whole lot of work. It’s no surprise that the price tag is so hefty, but it’s worth it. The only downside here is that it’s going to take forever. The project won’t be done until 2023. I don’t believe any of the big changes will open before 2021. This should all have been done long ago (and proposals have been floated time and time again), but at least it’s finally moving ahead.

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53 comments on “LAX is About to Spend a Crazy Amount of Money, and I Like the Plan

  1. They could have solved the problem much faster and for much less money, and with less walking, by building the rental facility and parking and connecting it with zero emission buses. They’re spending over a BILLION dollars PER MILE on rail.

    Oakland’s new system was a boondoggle at $151 per mile.

    So while this may be a beautiful concept, it’s one that is going to take a lot longer than necessary to solve issues and at a cost that’s just ludicrous.

    1. The whole point of the people mover is a dedicated right-of-way. If those zero-emissions buses get stuck in traffic on the horseshoe with everybody else, then it’s not a big improvement over the situation today. If they were to get a dedicated right-of-way, then costs would be similar to the people mover.

      1. I agree with Ron. The buses don’t solve anything. LAX doesn’t have runway gridlock like many airports but it does have roadway gridlock. And just building the structures and using buses won’t solve that issue.

  2. I guess it all sounds reasonable, but unfortunately, will it follow ATL and CLT and have $40+ added onto every rental car to pay for it? It makes even award rentals not feel like an award….

    Also, better hope they stay on time and on budget!

    1. Good point! At least at CLT, though, you won’t have to walk & ride so far to get to the facility. At CLT, it’s just going to be a short walk from the main terminal over to the hourly deck (ATL’s isn’t that bad of a walk either). But the LAX plan looks like you are going to have to walk or ride a moving sidewalk for a long time just to get to the people mover. Me having kids, I know that’s going to suck for families.
      PS – there are still some rental car companies at CLT that won’t be in the deck (Sixt is one).

    2. That $40 doesn’t bother me as much as paying the same for sports arenas when renting a car.

    3. Noah – That’s the big question. How much will it cost in surcharges? But airports learned long ago that it’s better to protect the locals and piss off the visitors in terms of politics. Look at Phoenix – that is absurd how much gets tacked on and it’s to pay for spring training facilities. So tax the crap out of rental cars and the locals don’t care.

  3. It’s a start. Look closely at where the APM spokes (I assume these are walkways) terminate. Are there suggestions of possible future changes in the terminal layout? Looks to me like this plan will eventually allow the elimination of LAX’s traditional (and very inefficient) multi-mini-hub layout and lead to a hybrid design that can at least partially substitute for what would be used if a new airport could be built from scratch, which is really what’s needed but just ain’t gonna happen. I notice in the “fancy” rendering that there is a ghost of an addition to Terminal 1 shown superimposed on the parking lot to the east. I don’t recall reading anywhere about this addition — maybe I missed something?

    1. Future Terminal 0 (seriously, I saw this designation somewhere, I don’t remember where). I don’t think it’s funded as part of the $4 billion plan, but it is part of the overall concept.

    2. Bibliobear – No future changes are made official here, but Terminal 0 (the ghost) is possible. The spokes are actually just aligned with the existing north-south roadways in the terminal area.

      In the future what I’d like to see if an Atlanta-style layout where the Bradley Terminal is the big ticketing area with many concourses pushing to the west. Then the rest of the existing terminals go away. (Relocate the hangars that would need to move to make this plan possible.) Not that this is in the plans, but the single spine actually makes sense for that. A loop would be a waste if that were to ever come to fruition.

  4. I heard about this already from somewhere. Agree that it’s the right move. Consolidated rental car centers are convenient. Only thing I don’t like is how far away from the terminals they are. When I fly in for a meeting I like to get to the rental car ASAP. Some airports, especially with buses take forever to get to the CONRAC…looking at you DFW. Maybe that’s why I generally like small airports where you just walk to the rental cars. Such an ease. That part of me wants the rental cars at LAX where the parking is between all the terminals today. Suppose money talks and those spots can’t be cheap, but I digress. The train out to the rentals is better than a bus but seems like a long ride (after a long walk) with too many stops. All things that take time and out of towner’s aren’t best at guessing. It’s an improvement for sure, but not sure it’s the best thought out plan, especially for something that’s been so long in planning.

    1. By putting the CONRAC where it’s proposed though, you do have a longer train ride, but from there you’re quickly onto the 405, compared to getting in your car in the central terminal area but then having to get through traffic on Century to get to the 405 or the Sepulveda tunnel to get to the 105.

      Probably the optimal solution would be to put the rental cars in the central terminal area and build a flyover above Century to directly connect the CTA to the 405, but I don’t see that happening.

    2. Agreed. I don’t see any mention of travel-time (not counting the walking/waiting). I had heard, at one time, 15 minutes to the Metro station, so another 2 minutes to CONRAC? Then again, it’s probably pretty close to the current system (depending on how close your rental place was to the airport).

    3. I haven’t seen travel time either, but I don’t think the CONRAC is in such a bad place. Yes it’s a longer ride but as mentioned, it’s right next to the 405. That saves a lot of time navigating the city streets as you do today.

  5. Makes more sense then the stupid high speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles that will cost 60+ billion and not be used as much as this LAX people mover project.

      1. I know really. They should just be saying a 60+ billion dollar bullet train will be faster then Greyhound.

        1. Not quite sure how it’d work with sprawling LAX, but one of the advantages of trains is its city center to city center, versus airports that are by necessity on the edges of cities.

  6. I’m surprised to see no stops along hotel row, given the extent of terminal crowding that the multitudes of hotel shuttles provide. Will they be redirected to the intermodal facility or conrac, perhaps?

    Also, on my iPad the ad below the comment box is force-hiding the keyboard whenever I try to type a comment, making that task impossible. Also also, I think your ad server is giving you ads for foreign mail order brides, hardly appropriate for your website, and an excellent reason to use adblock.

    1. I’ve got ads for web hosting companies and SuperSupplements, which are all things I’ve been looking at online recently.. Ads often follow your browsing history. ;-)

      1. I always like it when I get inexplicable ads, because it means the robots have no idea who I am. When they get it right, always, I’ll be scared. That said, I did quite enjoy the ads gmail gave me asking me to consider a certain jet aircraft for my air force. Umm….

        1. Eric, please let me know you can lend me a jet, or perhaps a helicopter from your Air Force. I’d like to fly it around. I’m quite sure it’d be a better commute than the one I’ve got currently!

    2. Eric C – I’m a little torn on the shuttles stopping at hotels. There’s no way they’d stop right at a hotel, so you’d have people needing to get down to street level and then walk up the entrance. Some walks would be further than others. For people with little luggage that’s not bad, but frankly, the existing stops aren’t that far from some of the hotels anyway if people really don’t want a shuttle.

      As for the iPad issue, let me know if that continues. Not sure what to tell you on the ad though!

  7. I’m curious how Avis is going to handle being kicked out of their property for the intermodal facility.. Or is the Conrac going to come first?

    The other interesting conundrum about the ITF is it introduces yet another grade switch, requiring stairs..

    I wonder if there has been some consideration putting the busses on a ramp so they’re at the same grade as the train? Although the issue with that is introducing vehicle/pedestrian interference.

    1. It would make a lot more sense to put the city bus terminal at the Metro rail station rather than with the parking, to allow bus-to-rail transfers.

      1. I had figured the ITF was for hotels and other shuttle bus needs. The image at LAX’s site shows busses of some variety there.

        1. The city bus terminal is currently adjacent to Parking lot C, and served by the C shuttle bus. They’ll need to put the city buses somewhere, and the bus bays by the ITF look like what they have in mind.

  8. Funny that you brought this up today since I saw a YouTube video entitled “L A’s Got Lines” this past Sunday. I’ll try to post it below. If it doesn’t work, it’s easy to find.

  9. Looks good. Curious about plans for lax flyaway and big blue bus to integrate.

    LA ‘s half baked light rail with clumsy transfers makes the green line slow and not very useful but might as well connect it.

    If you have kids, why bother with lax anyway when you have so many other choices?

    1. Because you’re much more likely to be able to get a nonstop flight to wherever you’re going from LAX than from BUR, LGB, ONT, or SNA?

  10. The plan looks like an improvement, but there are a lot of things that are suboptimal. One is the duplication of Metro rail stations at 96th and Century, which will cost Metro an extra $200 million and slow down the rides for anyone not going to the airport (or, for that matter, taking the Green Line from the airport). Another is putting the city bus terminal with the long term parking instead of with Metro rail to facilitate transfers. Yet another is this whole ITF concept, which doesn’t make sense to me: they’re building a fancy facility, with check-in and concessions and what not, at a place where people just want to go from their car to the train or vice versa. Off-airport check-in is barely viable at airports that are dominated by a single carrier (think NJ Transit EWR station, or Paddington for the Heathrow Express); at LAX there’s not a single airline with more than 25% of the traffic — good luck convincing any of them to set up a counter at the ITF (or the Metro station, there’s talk about check-in and concessions there too). And talk about the ITF as a place to drop off and pick up passengers is also ludicrous: it’s not even on Sepulveda, so driving to the ITF is about as convenient as driving to the terminals. I don’t understand why LAWA is trying to hype the ITF concept — just scale it down and call it “long term parking”.

    I would have liked to see the people mover go on Century, with a stop at the hotels, another one at Aviation (connecting to Metro, and eliminating the 96th Street station), and then onto Manchester Square. This could fit with making Century into one of Garcetti’s “great streets” as opposed to the mess it is today. But then the people mover wouldn’t easily serve long term parking, so I see why LAWA chose the 96th Street alignment. I also wonder if it would have made more sense to put CONRAC on Sepulveda and long term parking on the 405.

    1. Unless I’m missing something, it looks like the plan is for two ITF facilities. There’s the one by the parking garage, but another adjacent to the proposed Metro station. I would assume local/long distance buses will use the east ITF by the Metro, with hotel/airport/remote parking buses only at the west ITF by the parking garage.

      1. There’s one ITF, on 96th Street about midway between Sepulveda and Aviation, and that’s intended for parking, (probably) city buses, and (inexplicably) passenger vehicle drop-off. Crank’s blue “Intermodal facility” on Aviation is the Metro station, and as far as I can tell it won’t have bus bays, though possibly a street stop for some routes (detailed designs for the station haven’t been published, Metro only approved the station concept a few months ago). I don’t know what the plans are for hotel shuttles and long distance buses like the Flyaway, Santa Barbara and Disneyland buses, but my guess is that they’ll go on the horseshoe together with door-to-door shuttles and taxis (entering the horseshoe makes much more sense for a bus whose destination is the airport, as opposed to a city bus just passing through). As long as the horseshoe remains open to traffic, any rubber-tired vehicle whose destination is the airport will use it.

    2. I think you’re right about the extra checkin desk.. Unless there is baggage check, I think the most that airlines could be expected to do would be to put some kiosks out.. Although that would probably be better served by multi-airline kiosks run by LAWA..

      1. Won’t work. How will they move the luggage from the ITF to the planes? APMs are not built for cargo. Trucks are too slow, and even more so if they serve multiple airlines and terminals. Given the choice of checking baggage an hour early at the ITF or lugging it to the terminal on the APM, most people will choose the latter.

        Kiosks are OK, but why? Will there be staff to help people with the kiosks? Really, all they need at the ITF and Metro station is arrival/departure monitors.

        1. Ron I was agreeing with you more or less.

          I really doubt there is any way to sanely do baggage check at the ITF..

          FWIW, SeaTac has multi-airline kiosks in the parking garage. (I presume they’re owned by the port.) They do seem to get some use. It’d allow passengers to get something useful done if they’re waiting for the train, or their friend to park the car..

    3. Ron – I agree with most of this, but I wonder what the west ITF will really look like in the end. It’s still early. Things can be scaled back if the airlines say this is dumb and they’ll never use it.

  11. It sounds like this plan meets the needs of LAX from 10 years ago. What are the odds it’s outdated by the time it’s fully implemented in 2023 (which probably means 2025)?

    1. Chicago Chris – I don’t think that’s the case. They’re adding a lot of parking here and the trains can expand as demand rises. This seems to be pretty good for long term planning in my opinion. The terminals will be the ones that reach capacity, so that’s where the issue is.

  12. LAX is one of the few airports where I think a remote rental car facility actually makes sense, but the havoc this will wreak on rental car rates is a major concern of mine. Considering that there’s already talk of building a new stadium to lure the Rams back into town – a project where I’d be willing to wager good money that the way to fund it “without raising taxes” will be a sizable rental car surcharge – we could be looking at AUS-level taxes and fees. Last time I rented at Bergstrom, the effective tax rate was north of 60%. Yes, that’s right – $30+ dollars of taxes and fees on a rental that cost $50 total.

    Overall, though, I like the concept. If only they could build one of those automated people mover-thingies at DAL to get rid of the clunky bus shuttle connection to the light rail station 2 miles from the terminal.

    1. MeanMeosh – I don’t see how a rental car surcharge would be used for the Inglewood stadium. That’s in a totally different city and I don’t see the county being interested in stepping up for that project. (But can I just say how happy I am about that? I grew up a Rams fan and want my team back.)

  13. Sadly the people mover will be land side. Meaning passengers connecting to intl’ flights at tbit will still be required to walk or use airside buses. Rest of it looks decent but not overly ideal. Yet then again nothing about LA sprawl is ideal

  14. Anything that gets some of the traffic off the terminal roadways is a good thing. I live in Playa del Rey (basically on top of LAX, for anyone unfamiliar) and it takes me as long in a taxi to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 as it does to get from home to the airport entrance. The legions of swerving, braking buses are a big part of the issue (plus a few inconveniently-timed stop lights on the upper roadway). Let’s not even get started on the kamikaze-like WallyPark shuttles.

    That said, I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago and on the whole, LAX works tremendously well given the traffic it handles. O’Hare was several times bigger, but everything about it – from the bad-but-getting-better airfield layout to the miserable landside (one-hour taxi line, anyone?) – is dysfunctional. LAX hums along like a well-oiled machine most of the time. These improvements will only make it better.

  15. I’m less impressed. That’s a lot more walking to use the APM. I don’t mind the walking as much as I mind the time. If APM takes an average of 15 minutes to get me to the airport and I still have a 10 minute walk to my ticket counter (down an escalator, elevator or staircase), wait in line there, and back upstairs for a security check-in, where is the improvement?

    As a passenger, my focus on getting through the airport quickly. This plan seems compelling if my primary goal was avoiding traffic but it isn’t – I want to minimize my airport time. This seems like a case of building something that looks like a great improvement but will actually have a marginal effect on an individual basis.

    In other words, it seems likely it would become a game of how to avoid the APM and incumbent delays in the same way you want to avoid the busiest times in the horseshoe (e.g. those who can afford it, might find a curbside cab to the car rental facility faster than the APM method).

  16. What will this do to the CPE? Convenience wise it might be worth it. I doubt it will be a great value to the carriers who have to pay for it.

    1. Jeff – I doubt they’ve modeled CPE impact with any meaningful accuracy yet,
      but it will most definitely increase it.

  17. Okay, I’m surprised this hasn’t been said, but it needs to be said:

    Cranky likes a really expensive airport project. Could someone please check if hell has frozen over?

  18. Looking internationally, I was just reading today that the city check-in facility in Bangkok for passengers taking the train to Suvarnabhumi airport has closed because it was only for limited airlines – most recently only TG, and at its end, only an average of 10 passengers per day were using it. In Bangkok’s case, the train comes a distant second to taxis as the preferred route to the main International airport. Yet, city check-in seems to work in KUL, TYO and HKG.

    Re rental cars at LAX, for those of us arriving internationally from countries that drive on the left, anything to make getting out of the airport area quickly and easily, while we get used to driving on the wrong side of the road is a good idea. A people-mover through the middle sounds way better than the painful ‘A’ bus when having to connect between terminals. How else could LAX improve? A significant number of International passengers for whom LAX is their final destination are heading for Anaheim. Anything to improve on the buses and super-shuttles that go there now would be amazing. In the mean time, at least I can celebrate the fact that the only airline to fly direct from Auckland to LA, Air New Zealand, has now moved to TBIT from the grotty T2.

  19. Don’t agree with the plan because it does not solve the issue of this sadly developed major airport. My comments: Mayor Hahn produced a brilliant expansion plan for LAX, taking parking, cars out of the central terminal area and giving it to the passengers. Designs for new passenger terminals = Istanbul, Lima, the New Beijing Airport and those of the immediate past = from Kansai to Mumbai ALL have huge, wonderful, clear and spacious terminals. Not so at LAX.. Mayor Hahn’s plan would have create a marvellous, simple, efficient single terminal. Enormous too. The APM as presented renders the Theme Building ridiculous, superfluous from an architectural standpoint. The crosswalks from terminals to the few stations look tedious. And though one will be able to speed, once they climb to the station, to their rental car company, fine but, none of the terminals have enough space to handle the needs of passengers nor of the airlines UNLESS, MAYBE, PERHAPS the resident authority builds terminal skyscrapers. Check-in, Baggage Claim, and their service areas plus restaurants & stores are still not adequate. The addition to the Tom Bradley Terminal looks and was expensive. The schlock merchant architects at Fentress thought, I suppose, that copying the arches of the Theme Bldg. and Frank Gehry’s control tower might be the way to go. It’s not. Let’s get Hahn’s plan back.

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