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Metro Reaches for the Holy Grail: A MetroRail/Airport Extension

GETTING THERE FROM HERE - The taxpaying commuters of L.A. City and County (to say nothing of the entire Southern California region) have demanded a first-rate, direct LAX/MetroRail access for decades, and after having personally fought for such a rail/airport connection for over 10 years, I find it difficult for anyone to not be amazed and impressed by the new options being trotted out by Metro.  Such a sought-after connection is “the Holy Grail” of our county rail transit system, and Metro is reaching for it.

Two of my favorite and most appreciated efforts performed by the public sector are when they listen to the constituents, and when they think out of the box in ways that show just how lucky we are to have such thorough and innovative experts working on our behalf.  Such is the case with the Green Line to LAX Rail Line Project “funded” by Measure R, if one can call $200 million an adequate funding for such a critical transit connection.

But my personal experience with confronting the entire Green Line to LAX Project suggests a critical attention to both history and detail surrounding the many aspects, forces and nuances surrounding this Project, and it must be noted that the $200 million demanded by the late State Senator Jenny Oropeza to get the Green Line to LAX Parking Lot C was never supposed to either fix the Green Line/LAX disconnect or sufficiently pay for such a project.

Because State Senator Oropeza (now succeeded by Ted Lieu, whose transportation efforts are equally impressive), who once served on the Metro Board years ago, recognized the need to demand not only a quality debate, planning and funding effort for a Green Line that made it to LAX…but for a Green Line that made it by or through LAX to the Westside to better reach its full ridership potential.

Numerous studies have been performed, including that of L.A. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, who has been a champion of connecting LAX to MetroRail since he was first elected.   His Green Line Interagency Task Force included Metro, LA World Airports, the FAA and the LADOT.  Now that Metro has performed the most modern, detailed and comprehensive study to date (led by Metro staffmembers Roderick Diaz and Cory Zelmer), we now know the following:

1) The only MetroRail/LAX Central Terminal connection from the planned Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line that can stay within the allotted $200 million is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Circulator from the future Crenshaw/Aviation light rail station.  Considering how other airport/rail connections in San Francisco and New York have been created with a higher quality of convenience and technology for over $2 billion, this BRT option is a national embarrassment (but still must be studied).

2) All Metro Green Line to LAX options are keeping open the possibility of a northern Green Line extension to the Westside, which aligns well with the Westside Mobility Study conclusions (with a Fehr/Peers study team headed by Tom Gaul) who pointed out that the Westside’s interests and needs are pointing to just such a north-south rail line (perhaps up Lincoln Blvd., perhaps up Sepulveda Blvd., and perhaps both, but clearly in need of being formally studied by Metro).

3) Walking distance, convenience, costs, ridership and travel time from a LAX People Mover (which until now has been presumed necessary for a MetroRail schemata that had the Crenshaw and Green Lines running by LAX but not into the Central Airline Terminals) improves with 2-3 stations but actually becomes cost-ineffective at four or more stations…so the concept of a People Mover monorail stopping at each terminal is NOT a cost-effective alternative!

4) The preliminary costs/rider and overall capital costs of a Green Line Subway is NOT necessarily less advantageous than a grade-separated Green Line that uses the Harbor Subdivision Rail Right of Way, and which connects to a LAWA-funded/operated LAX People Mover; in fact the Subway may not only be more cost-effective than the presumed Green Line/People Mover scheme but is in the same cost range as the aforementioned San Francisco and New York Airport lines.

In short, that Holy Grail of a direct LAX/Green Line connection that proceeds on to the Westside AND has direct linkage to the South Bay, Norwalk and the Mid-City (the subway option that I refer to as “the Heathrow model” despite dramatic differences between this option and what exists at Heathrow Airport in England) may NOT be “The Option That Is Too Costly and Environmentally Impossible to Do”, but “The Option That Is Most Cost-Effective”.

And I am very strongly suspecting that such an option, dubbed the Modified LRT (light rail transit) Trunk, is also “The Option That Taxpayers and Commuters Truly Want”.

Such a Green Line Subway would have an underground station just east of The Theme Restaurant, and it would be up to L.A. World Airports to determine how best to transfer commuters to each individual airline terminal, but it would truly get airport workers and commuters into LAX via the Green Line.

The obvious must be stated, however, that for this Green Line Subway, which would have a southern portal (descent underground) south of the airport and have a northern portal near LAX Parking Lot C, to be built would require a significant amount of funding—perhaps a billion or more of funding from an extension of Measure R, airport and parking fees, and/or other funding sources—which is why this option wasn’t seriously considered until…

…Until Metro staffmembers Roderick Diaz and Cory Zelmer revealed that the other options aren’t necessarily cheaper, and certainly would attract fewer riders so as to make these alternatives arguably cost-ineffective.

A total of 27 alternatives involving direct and indirect (bus, People Mover) links of the Green Line to the LAX Central Airline Terminals have been carried forward, and Metro will be concluding which two or three to present to the Metro Board for further study.

The Metro Green Line to LAX study team is actively and eagerly seeking input for their project, and one can find them to provide input at,, and on twitter at @greenlinetolax.  They can also be reached by e-mail at or by “snail mail” (and preferably with a Green Line to LAX Comment Form) at:

Cory Zelmer
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
One Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012

After over 20 years of having to live with the embarrassment of a Green Line that never made it to LAX, L.A. County now has the opportunity to reach for the Holy Grail of a true Green Line to LAX (or MetroRail Airport Extension, which is how the project might be renamed), and thereby create a true world-class transit system for the 21st century.

It is now up to us to decide whether we will follow the lead of Metro staff and raise the bar and join every other major airport in the world to create first-class airport access for a first-class City/County of Los Angeles.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)



Vol 10  Issue 22

Pub. Mar. 16, 2012