If all goes well, passengers at Los Angeles International Airport will hardly notice the construction project that excites airport executives as much - or even more - than all of the others now taking place at the airport.

Airport Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey was practically giddy in a recent tour of the new Central Utility Plant, a $438 million project wedged next to a roadway in the middle of the airport's nine terminals. The new building is set for completion in May 2014, and when it's finished, airport officials say, it will have enough capacity each day to pump 97.1 million gallons of water and generate enough electricity to power 9,100 private homes.

Airport officials say they knew that before they could embark on most of their flashier projects - like a more than $220 million overhaul of Terminal 5 - they realized would need a more efficient power plant. The old utility facility, which will soon be demolished, was built in 1961 and much of its equipment is outdated, with replacement parts for much of it unavailable from typical sources.

"This was something we very quickly knew we would need to put in," said Lindsey.

Officials say the old building likely should have been replaced a decade sooner - they say utility plants generally last about 40 years - but they note the airport embarked on few projects during a 20-year period that began after the 1984 Olympics. During that period, parts of the infrastructure began to crumble, Lindsey said.

"I think the airport had been caught in a web of confusion about how it would evolve," Lindsey said.

The project has caused the occasional traffic snarl, mostly because construction managers have had to bring in and install equipment in the middle of an airport that has little down time. Crews have also been busy laying pipes below the airport's roadways.