A plan to separate two runways on the north side of Los Angeles International Airport - a step airport officials say will improve aviation safety - took one more step forward Monday.
Airport staff presented the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners with a plan to move the airport's most northern runway by 260 feet. That would allow the airport to construct a taxiway between the two runways, which officials say is vital for a modern airport.
The Board of Airport Commissioners took no action at its meeting, and members of the panel do not necessarily have to adopt the staff recommendations, though it is expected they will. The project still must clear various state and federal regulators, but officials say Monday's meeting moved the project closer to fruition.
Also at the meeting, staff recommended airport commissioners move forward on a transportation center that would provide bus and rail connections to the airport. Staff-recommended plans also include a consolidated rental car facility and automated people mover system for travelers passing from one area of the airport to another.
Among the plans, the runway separation has been most controversial. Other options under consideration would have separated runways by more or less distance, or not move them at all. One of the most drastic options called for a 350-foot move of the northern runway.
The two runways on the south side of the airport have already been moved apart, a construction process completed in 2008. An extra taxiway built between runways helps guard against runway incursions - essentially two planes that mistakenly navigate too close to each other. FAA officials have long said the north runways need more separation. There is now 700 feet between the two parallel northern runways.
The project is opposed by many residents of nearby Westchester, many of whom say it is unnecessary. They say airport officials should curb expansion plans and instead pursue a process of regionalization, or spreading air traffic to other underutilized airports, such as LA/Ontario International Airport, which is run by the same airport authority as LAX. And they say they're concerned about how close the new northernmost runway could be to homes and businesses.
"The issue on the north side is multifold," said Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion. "One is the noise. Second is the pollution. The third is how it impacts the businesses themselves."
The modernization proponents include the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.
Leaders of the three main groups supporting the project issued a joint statement Monday in support of the airport commission's move.
"For nearly 20 years, the issue of the North Airfield has vexed mayoral administrations and stymied the city's ability to properly accommodate the new generation of larger, more environmentally friendly aircraft," they wrote. "Today's recommendation is a giant step in the right direction to create a world-class airport."
In a statement, airport Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey noted that while the proposed new runway figuration still would not be perfect - more separation might have been ideal but could have had greater impact on nearby neighborhoods - she is pleased airport officials have moved forward.
"We promised to deliver a plan for LAX that is safe, environmentally balanced, sustainable and financially responsible, all while improving the passenger experience and ensuring that LAX will continue to be L.A.'s economic engine for years to come," she said. "We have done just that."
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