California airports get $100 million to upgrade terminals and roads, Buttigieg announces

Pete Buttigieg speaks during a press conference at LAX
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks during a news conference at LAX on Thursday as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, looks on.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Standing atop an observation deck at Los Angeles International Airport, the nation’s top transportation official announced Thursday a near $100-million award to upgrade terminals and improve roadways in California’s airports as part of a $1-billion program for 85 airports across the country.

“Airports like LAX are gateways to American cities and they are gateways to America,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Americans flew here from every corner of the country for the Super Bowl, and in 2028, athletes will come here from every corner of the globe to compete for Olympic gold. ... When they do, we will be able to demonstrate that America really has so much to be proud of and the best infrastructure.”

LAX is the nation’s second-busiest airport and has consistently ranked as one of the most congested and toughest to navigate.


Under the grant program it will receive $50 million for a multiyear project to increase passenger capacity by reconfiguring and repaving roadways around the airport, along with upgrading the entrance to the central terminal area parking. The infusion of capital for the nation’s airports is part of last year’s $1-trillion infrastructure bill.

“America is a country that brought the modern aviation age to the world,” Buttigieg told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “And yet around the world in most rankings of airport quality, not one of our airports ranks among the top 25. That’s something that we have to change.”

LAX has been in a near constant state of construction over the last few years, undergoing a $15-billion modernization that’s expected to be completed as soon as 2023. A $4.9-billion people mover connecting the airport to the region’s fast-growing rail network is expected to be finished by next year, well ahead of the 2028 Olympics, when about 1 million travelers are expected to come to the region.

“This is the airport of the future,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the news conference at LAX.

Hanging cranes and the exposed steel beams of the people mover project stood in the distance, as Garcetti, Buttigieg and other officials spoke atop the rooftop of the airport’s space age Theme Building.

Garcetti noted that the boom in public transportation construction reaches far beyond the airport, citing the opening of the 6th Street Bridge this week and two light rail lines this fall, the Crenshaw Line and the Regional Connector.

Earlier this year, Delta opened its new $1.9-billion terminal renovation at the airport. And Southwest is expected to open its overhaul of Terminal 1 later this year.

Normally, airlines make renovations to their terminals while the federal government pays for roadway or other infrastructure work.


But the Federal Aviation Administration grants announced Thursday can go toward terminal upgrades, a departure from past practice.

“I don’t think anybody could look at airports across America today and say that the existing system and the existing levels of funding had been adequate,” Buttigieg said Wednesday. “It is very natural for public funds to go to publicly important resources and pieces of infrastructure, and we think that includes airport terminals.”

The federal projects aim to make flying safe and more efficient as well to help with future travel demands.

Logan International Airport in Boston is getting the largest grant with $62 million for roadways, terminal renovation and expanding ticket counters and baggage claims.

In Southern California, $10 million will go to Long Beach Airport for repaving and realigning the terminal loop, and $24 million will go to San Diego International Airport for the demolition of Terminal 1 and the construction of a new one, along with roadway and walkway improvements. About $10 million will go to Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport to improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The funds come as airport travel has begun to bounce back from the pandemic but airlines have come under fire for a raft of cancellations that have left frustrated passengers stranded.

Buttigeig said Thursday that consumer protection officials have been inundated with complaints and that the department was reviewing how airlines are responding to customers.