Concerned about a prediction that air passenger traffic will increase nearly 50% at Los Angeles International Airport in the next 11 years, the City Council has ordered a new master plan to examine the likely effects on automobile traffic, air quality and noise in surrounding areas.
At the request of Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved preparation of the study, which will update the airport element of the city’s General Plan. The airport is in Galanter’s council district.
“If we don’t carefully plan the future of the LAX community, airport growth threatens to make the area almost unlivable,” Galanter said in a statement. “We must find ways to plan for and deal with the future growth at LAX.”
A draft environmental impact report prepared by the airport last year said annual air traffic could grow from 44.4 million passengers in 1988 to 65 million by the year 2000.
When the draft study was released last spring, Galanter said some of the projected growth in air traffic should be shifted to other Los Angeles-area airports.
Melanie Fallon, deputy city planning director, said in an interview that the study will probably cost more than $1 million and will take several years to complete. City planners will report back to the City Council in 60 to 90 days to detail the scope of the work that must be done.
Fallon said the study will be “the first real comprehensive master plan of the long-range impacts associated with expansion of LAX.”
She said extensive public hearings will be held to solicit comment from residents of the affected area, including Westchester, Inglewood and El Segundo.
Planners will look at the environmental consequences of expanding air traffic in 5-million-passenger increments from 50 million to 65 million passengers a year.
“We will take a good look at what mitigation is required at different (passenger) levels at LAX,” she said.
Fallon said traffic congestion on streets and freeways around the airport is likely to be the biggest problem.
Road improvements and mass-transit solutions to ease the traffic snarl may cost hundreds of millions of dollars and require increases in parking, landing and other fees, she said.
Clifton A. Moore, executive director of the Department of Airports, agreed that traffic on access roads may be the biggest constraint on airport expansion. “The point at which it becomes difficult to operate at a reasonable level of convenience is at 65 million passengers a year,” he said.
Galanter said the airport’s growth will increase traffic congestion for miles around. “The clogging of the traffic will impact development patterns all over the Los Angeles region,” she said.
The environmental study found that the expansion to 65 million passengers a year could lead to traffic gridlock on the ground and cause more air pollution and possibly more airline accidents. However, improvements in aircraft technology are expected to produce quieter jets and minimize increases in noise, the study said.
The growth in passenger traffic also could generate a $17-billion financial boon for the airport area, the environmental study said.
Galanter said that although airport is a regional resource that is vital to the entire Los Angeles economy, “we cannot sacrifice the quality of life in the surrounding communities or the integrity of the area’s transportation system just to satisfy the airlines or proponents of a bigger airport.”
The new study may identify environmental problems, such as ground traffic, that cannot be mitigated, and therefore it may provide the foundation for future efforts to limit passenger growth at the airport, city planners say.
But Moore said federal law prohibits the city from imposing restrictions on interstate commerce unless it can be shown that specific environmental harm is being caused solely by the airport.