The modernization of outdated terminals at Los Angeles International Airport forged ahead Tuesday as work began on a $508-million renovation of one of the busiest passenger facilities.
City leaders and airport officials broke ground at Terminal 1, home to Southwest Airlines and its subsidiary AirTran Airways. Known for traffic congestion and long lines, the 30-year old facility handled about 9.65 million travelers in 2013, the most of any LAX terminal that year.
"We want this airport to make the best first impression and the best last impression for people when they are here," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at an airport ceremony. "This project will improve the passenger experience from the curb to the gates."
Last year, workers completed major portions of a $2.1-billion facelift of the airport's most-lucrative passenger gateway, the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Since then, LAX officials have increasingly focused on updating other facilities for foreign and domestic travel.
Plans for Terminal 1 call for a brighter more open ticketing lobby, an automated system to handle checked bags and numerous structural improvements, including a new fa¿¿ade and seismic retrofitting.
The passenger screening area, operated by the Transportation Security Administration, will be expanded to 12 lanes to prevent long lines.
Once through the TSA checkpoint, passengers will experience a modern concourse with more seating, larger restrooms and updated retail shops, beverage stands and restaurants.
Westfield, which is responsible for developing the terminal's concessions, says it will offer 24 shops, cafes and lounges as well as upscale retail and dining establishments, double what there is now.
The terminal's entrance, ticket counters and skycap operations will be moved from the east end of the building to the west side to ease traffic congestion — a problem motorists now encounter frequently while entering the central terminal area during peak travel times.
Airport officials also say baggage claim will be refurbished and the ramp areas will get new pavement and aircraft fueling systems.
"It's all great; they need to make these improvements," said Eric Crown, 50, of Phoenix, who regularly flies on Southwest to Los Angeles on business. "I hope they will be devoted to efficiency, not just amenities."
Airport officials say the work, which will generate about 1,500 construction jobs, is scheduled to be finished in 2018. Southwest, which will keep its operations open during construction, is financing the project, but Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, will eventually reimburse the airline for many of the improvements.
"The modernization of Terminal 1 has long been in our sights," said Bob Montgomery, Southwest's vice president for airport affairs. "The renovation will allow us to better serve our customers today as well as provide the opportunity to expand our network options."
The Southwest project is part of an ongoing effort to overhaul the airport's nine passenger facilities in the central terminal area, which is a mix of domestic and international operations. Most were built in the 1960s and have long been criticized by passengers for being worn and outdated.
Terminal 2 is now undergoing a $300-million makeover while Terminal 3 has been partially remodeled by Virgin America and Virgin Australia. Terminal 5, which houses Delta Air Lines, is undergoing a $250-million upgrade, and United Airlines is planning $400 million in improvements for Terminals 7, 8 and parts of 6. Alaska Airlines has already remodeled its share of Terminal 6.
The layouts of the projects at Terminals 1, 2 and 3 represent a shift away from a narrower design that was approved in a 2005 master plan. The old plan would have made it possible to construct a taxiway between the airport's two northern runways by moving the innermost runway 340 feet closer to the terminals.
Last year, however, airport commissioners gave initial approvals for a more controversial plan to make room for the taxiway by relocating the northernmost runway closer to homes in Westchester and Playa del Rey. That decision sparked a lawsuit by airport activists and community organizations.
Nancy Castles, an airport spokeswoman, said the latest plans and environmental reviews for the north runway and other projects have received city and county approvals. She added that the current round of terminal upgrades address immediate needs "that will greatly improve passenger services and replace aging infrastructure."