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Opinion: LAX will soar, again? Yeah, tell me another one

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Oh, stop teasing me.

I’ve heard this so, so many times before: ‘Don’t worry, baby, this time I’ll get it right, I swear -- no screw-ups this time.’'

And then you go and break my heart again.

I’m talking about LAX, Los Angeles International Airport. Time and time again, it has promised me, and about 55 million other passengers, that it’ll clean up its act. It’ll fix the bathrooms, it’ll deliver some decent restaurants, it’ll open up some good stores with good books and good shopping for those long post-TSA-check waits. There’s only so many Hollywood snowglobes and Dodgers sweatshirts a girl can buy.

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Now I’m being promised, once again, that the airport is cleaning up its act. As my colleague Dan Weikel writes, ‘'for the third time in less than a decade, a Los Angeles mayor and airport leaders... unveiled a grand architectural plan for the expansion and modernization’’ of an airport that hasn’t been made over since the Bradley Terminal was built for the ’84 Olympics.

I’m ashamed to say that I have been tempted to stray from LAX. Geez -- have you had a look at the place? It’s been 25 years since it had a facelift -- not even Botox! The Denver airport, the Boston airport, the Nice airport, even the Phoenix airport have more to offer. Thank goodness for the still-grungy, still-laggardly regions of JFK.

At the big unveiling of the big plans, the mayor said the city will ‘'restore [LAX] to the premier international gateway the airlines need and the City of Angels deserves.’’

It’s reassuring that the plans were designed by a Denver-based firm that designed the Denver airport -- just so long as we don’t get their baggage delivery system. ‘We want to change LAX into LA wow,’’ said the alpha architect, Curt Fentress. [Travelers already do say ‘wow’ when they get a load of LAX, but not in a good way.]

Once again, the biggest fuss is about the Bradley Terminal: reconstructed concourses, new gates, new shopping, new restaurants. Well, fine, but what about the other dingy concourses where we domestic travelers have to lurk? And what about free wireless Internet that would make travelers happier than if the city were to reproduce Rodeo Drive in Terminal Six?

I’m hopeful, of course -- how can I be otherwise? But if all those other plans couldn’t get accomplished in boom times, how are we going to find $5 billion or $6 billion [or $9 billion or $12 billion] in hard times? The frantically busy Atlanta airport, with those nifty trains from gate to gate, couldn’t sell even $600 million in muni bonds for a new terminal. Is it time for another federal Works Progress Administration to get the job done as it did before, building airports more than 70 years ago?

And as Weikel writes, LAX has lost at least 13 million passengers in eight years. It’s a cycle -- if you build it better, then the passengers, and the airlines, will come back.

We voters, not the politicians, made the biggest gesture of faith toward a revived LAX, and we didn’t do it with photo ops and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, but with the sweat of our brow. We approved [barely] Measure R, the half-cent L.A. County transit tax, which among other things will trump the City Hall lobbying of decades past -- and send the Green Line light rail right to the airport.


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