Citing the high cost and risk of tunneling under Los Angeles International Airport, county transportation officials said Wednesday that it did not make sense to build a light-rail line directly under the airport's terminal area.
Their recommendation to discard four possible LAX alternatives, although preliminary, could permanently change a decades-long discussion on how to connect light rail to the nation's third-busiest airport.
Three of the alternatives would require tunneling under terminals and runways. The fourth would call for a bus system instead of light rail. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors will consider the proposal next week.
By the end of this decade, two light-rail lines will come within three miles of the airport without completing the trip. The South Bay's Green Line hugs the southern end of the runways, but the only link to the terminal is a shuttle bus. When the $2-billion Crenshaw Line debuts in 2019, it will pass 1.5 miles to the east of the terminals.
Preliminary studies indicate that more people would ride a train to LAX if it stopped inside the terminals, and that ridership would be highest for the options with the fewest number of transfers.
The options that could be eliminated are costly and "encroach in a way that the airport does not want us to encroach," Martha Welborne, Metro's executive director for countywide planning, said Wednesday.
Welborne is recommending that three other alternatives receive further study. All depend on the construction of a so-called "people mover," which could resemble a circulator train like the one at San Francisco International Airport.
One approach would bring the people mover out nearly two miles to meet the Crenshaw Line at Aviation and Century boulevards.
Another option would move the Crenshaw Line to the west, where it would link up near what is now Parking Lot C with the people mover and a proposed shuttle bus and rental car hub.
Under the final option, the people mover would circle the terminals and connect with a light-rail station near LAX's iconic lighted pillars.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is on the Metro board of directors, said officials should keep the number of alternatives to a minimum so the study does not become too expensive or time-consuming.
"Some of us were here when the public turned on us in a big way," Yaroslavsky said. "We've gained back the trust of the public, but this is the kind of thing that undermines it."
Still unclear is who will pay for the eventual connection, and how. Metro has set aside about $330 million in sales tax revenue from Measure R for the light-rail link, but cost estimates hover near $1 billion. And at a recent Board of Airport Commissioners meeting, Gina Marie Lindsey, Los Angeles World Airports executive director, said airlines that use LAX were not interested in contributing to a people mover or a transit hub because neither brings in revenue.