It’s only natural for residents already dealing with unpleasant noise and traffic congestion levels around Bob Hope Airport to cast wary eyes at any proposed development there, but plans for a new ground transport hub at Empire Avenue and Hollywood Way deserve better than knee-jerk opposition.
Burbank City Council members are expected next week to consider green-lighting construction of the three-story Regional Intermodal Transportation Center, which would serve as a centralized location for travelers and locals making connections to rental cars, buses and trains.
In the short run, the hub could help reduce congestion along Hollywood Way and generate other local benefits, including new construction jobs, improved disaster response and increased use of alternative energy and public transportation.
In the long run, it appears City Hall hopes the center will bolster its argument that a stop along the $40-billion high-speed rail line expected to connect L.A. and San Francisco by 2020 should be built at the airport-adjacent intersection of San Fernando Boulevard and Hollywood Way.
While the transit center’s decision may relate to attracting high-speed rail development, Victor Gill, a spokesman for the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, said building it would leave in place existing agreements that prohibit increased flight traffic and construction of a new terminal through 2015.
The same Federal Aviation Administration regulators who are pushing for eventual construction of a new terminal further from airplane runways — but won’t allow the airport to impose nighttime curfews — are now also requiring the airport to move car rental operations out of their current runway-adjacent location, Gill said.
The transit center plan leaves the terminal expansion battle for another day, but solves the rental car problem by essentially parking cars on land already used primarily for that purpose, limiting potential impacts on area residents.
Meanwhile, Gill said the center would reduce annual vehicle trips in and out of the airport by around 700,000 because rental cars would no longer have to leave the area for cleaning and maintenance.
Solar panels on the transit center’s roof would provide renewable energy, and a compressed natural gas fueling station behind it would reduce emissions of airport fleet vehicles.
Another bonus is that the simple, sturdy structure would be equipped to double as a local emergency operations center in case of disaster.
The transit center would also make taking a bus or train to the airport a much more plausible scenario, with the building doubling as a Metro stop while improving pedestrian access to east/west rail lines along Empire Avenue and incorporating a cool new “moving sidewalk” leading into the terminal.
“What’s beginning to take shape is a vision for the airport as a transportation center that transcends just flying to the Bay Area and back,” Gill said.
And remember, if city officials have their way, a future high-speed rail stop would also be in the mix.
So the immediate question in front of residents concerned about airport development has much less to do with planes than it does trains.
But it’s also a question of economics.
Letting the airport build its transit center is a significant and sensible step toward Burbank establishing itself as one of the great transportation hubs of Southern California.
For all of its inconveniences, having the airport already brings a lot to the local economy. In recent years, for example, Yahoo! and Kaiser Permanente moved hundreds of jobs into Burbank, with easy flight access no doubt playing a significant part in those decisions.
Converging ground transportation at the airport will only increase the value of this community asset.
JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com.