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Spending OKd Before LAX Plan Approved

The airport panel chief says design work on Hahn's proposal, costing up to $2 million a month, must start now to avoid future delays.

September 03, 2003|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

Although the City Council and Federal Aviation Administration have yet to review Mayor James K. Hahn's $9-billion modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport, the city Airport Commission voted Tuesday to begin preliminary design work this fall at a cost of $1 million to $2 million a month.

The commission, which is appointed by Hahn, voted 5 to 0 to solicit design proposals on elements of the mayor's proposal, which he said favors safety and security over expansion. The process could double the amount of money the city is spending on planning efforts, without any guarantee that Hahn's plan would be approved, officials said.

"They take on some risk that whatever money is spent would be wasted if they don't go forward with the project," said Richard Marchi, senior vice president of technical and environmental affairs at Airports Council International, a trade group.

The city is spending about $1 million a month on modernization and has logged about $116 million in planning costs since Mayor Richard Riordan first proposed reworking LAX about 10 years ago.

Hahn's proposal piggybacks on environmental studies done for Riordan's plan.

The City Council will be able to choose from Riordan's expansion proposals as well as Hahn's alternative when it considers the package, probably in about a year.

Advanced planning efforts approved Tuesday by the commission, however, would focus only on Hahn's proposal.

When the commission hires a firm this fall to start design work, the firm will be asked to iron out the details of each piece of the mayor's plan, such as a passenger check-in center, a consolidated rental car facility and an intermodal transportation center.

For example, the firm will be charged with figuring out the specific route that a proposed people-mover would take, how it would enter the proposed check-in center -- designated for a neighborhood known as Manchester Square -- and at what elevation it would arrive there, said Kim Day, interim executive director for the city's airport agency.

The commission's move was criticized by skeptics who are concerned about the cost of the mayor's plan and who believe that the project would provide no discernible benefit for the local economy beyond short-term jobs created during construction.

"I think committing to spend money on detailed planning when [environmental reports] have raised numerous questions ... is premature," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

"This has not been approved, and they should be cautious about spending money until they know these things will be done," she said.

Airport Commission President Ted Stein said it is necessary to begin nailing down details in the mayor's plan now so that the city won't have to wait several years for consultants to draft construction documents once the project is approved.

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