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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON AIRPORTS

Regional Fields Make More Sense

Expansion of LAX means gridlock. Look again to outlying solutions, including Palmdale.

April 12, 1998|BOB PINZLER and DAVID MYERS | Bob Pinzler is a councilman in Redondo Beach. David Myers is a Palmdale councilman

About 30 years ago, airport planners recognized that the 3,500-acre Los Angeles International would shortly be filled to capacity. In a fit of wisdom, they purchased more than 17,000 acres in the Antelope Valley to develop the airport of the future. Then, exhausted by this unusually insightful activity, they rolled over and went back to sleep.

Now we have a new airport master plan. The current planners would have us believe that another runway can be shoehorned into LAX, that more roads can be built and that nearly twice as much air traffic as today can use the airport safely, when regional monitoring efforts show safety problems even at present levels.

In the 1970s, forecasters predicted LAX would handle 40 million passengers annually by 2000. All kinds of "mitigations" such as traffic improvements were planned to reduce the impact on surrounding communities.

Today, most of these mitigations have not been done and LAX now carries more than 60 million passengers. Most of these passengers arrive and depart by private automobile, for which the airport thoughtfully provides ample parking. The Green Line train does not go to the airport, the Sepulveda tunnel south of LAX is no wider than when it was first built in the 1950s and public buses are relegated to a clumsy off-site transfer point while autos press through ever-increasing, barely crawling traffic in the airport itself.

As a result, traffic in the South Bay, the West Side and all along the 405 is affected. Airport users from the Valley, Orange County, the East Side and elsewhere must allow more and more time to get there. And employees of LAX, most of whom live some distance away, spend more and more time on the road to get to work.

Some people argue that all this congestion is good for us. Despite the increased air pollution from stop-and-go traffic, despite the inevitable slowdown (and increased cost) to cargo shippers, despite the inconvenience to anyone traveling within 10 miles of the airport, these people think we should ask for more. "It will be good for business," they say, arguing that failure to further congest LAX will drive international business and travelers to Denver, Seattle or Las Vegas.

That is such nonsense. More likely, international business and travelers will go to those cities when they can no longer move through an overcrowded and gridlocked LAX area. Every other major city has turned to developing a separate airport to address growth-related congestion. We need to provide a reasonable way for Southern California to safely accommodate the regionwide passenger demand of 150 million annual passengers expected by 2015.

Fortunately, we can do that. The 17,000 acres in the Antelope Valley is still owned by the Los Angeles Department of Airports, as is the expanding Ontario International Airport. The former Norton and March air bases in San Bernardino and Riverside counties are good prospects as commercial airports and another is likely to be developed either at El Toro in Orange County or in north San Diego County. All of these are positioned exactly where the greatest growth is projected.

The state has approved a route for high-speed rail that would link all of these outlying airports and make them easily accessible from many areas of Southern California. Even without the rail line, travelers living north of the L.A. Basin would find Palmdale easier to get to than LAX because CalTrans, the airport department and the City of Palmdale are already working to improve access along state route 138 and state route 14, the Antelope Valley Freeway. Roads providing access to the other airports throughout the region are also being improved. Since many people in the Antelope Valley, Inland Empire and south Orange County now commute long distances for lack of employment close to home, the prospect of new local jobs would further reduce traffic on airport access roads.

A whole new international airport won't happen overnight, but it would happen just as fast and for probably less cost than squeezing even one runway into LAX. As a region, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to plan for the next century. We can create a vision and develop a regional air system worthy of the California dream, or we can conduct business as usual and deal with the inevitable problems after the fact. The better public policy is obvious.

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