LAX Reveals Plans for Nice but Very Expensive Bradley West Terminal Expansion

I know, I know. I’ve had a fair number of posts on LAX lately, and I’m sorry about that for those not impacted by this airport. But I think this should be the last one for a little while.

As we all know, LAX is not exactly the world’s favorite airport. In fact, most people who have to fly through the the place, especially from an international perspective, find it to be a miserable experience. This is definitely not a secret, but after many proposed fixes kept failing to happen, I think most just figured it would never change. I had the chance to attend a reception last week where they unveiled the latest design effort to fix the place up. What do I think? It’s a beautiful design, but it’s a complete and total waste of money.

Let’s start with the good. Here’s a shot of what it will look like. This would be the view if I were looking from the ocean toward the east.

As you can see, it will ultimately add two concourses to the Bradley Terminal with a host of other stuff in there as well. , the same people that did Denver’s airport, came up with the design, and they were at the reception to explain to everyone how it took the LA environment into account and incorporated the ocean, the mountains, etc. They even said, and I swear I’m not making this up, that they’re trying to change “LAX into LA-Wow.” Now I’m the first to admit that I’m not a design kind of guy, but I suppose I understand what they were trying to do. My problem is that they shouldn’t have been trying to do it.

We heard a lot from Roger Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of LAWA and head of this project, about how this is going to be an airport that people talk about. It’s going to be an airport that when people arrive, they tell their friends and family that they have to go see it. Who the heck cares? I want an airport that’s easy. I don’t care if it’s pretty. If you go for “pretty,” you end up wasting money (at least $6 or 7 billion in this case) on something that ultimately either leads to higher airfares or loss of flights because it’s too expensive to fly there. To make it a little more clear what they’re trying to do, I’ve gone back to . First up we have the plans for Phase I.

So, in the first phase, they’re going to build a new concourse to replace the existing one at the Bradley Terminal. The north side will open in Jan 2012 with the south side opening in July of that year. They’re staggered because of the way they need to knock down the old one to keep enough gates operating during construction. You will notice that the current A380 gate on the north side will actually stick around after this is done because it’s grandfathered in and can’t be replaced.

They will also replace the two side security areas with one large one in the middle of the existing facility. All of this should be completed by September 2013 with a price tag of around $2 billion. That’s right. We get 14 gates, 3 more than before, along with a new fire station and some taxiway changes for a mere $2 billion. Keep in mind that JetBlue built an entirely new terminal in New York with 26 gates for $800 million (though they didn’t have to move taxiways around). This money is all being spent on what Roger Johnson admitted was an “expensive concept.”

But the absurdity really doesn’t begin until Phase II. This part hasn’t been funded yet, but it is expected to cost $3 to 4 billion. (I’ll put money down that the costs double by the time it’s done.) Here’s my map of the second phase.

As you can see, they will now build an additional concourse further to the west. The parking lots for Terminals 3/4 will now be razed and replaced with a new “Central Terminal Area” to serve the midfield concourse. There will be underground parking (and the TSA is ok with this?) to replace the existing parking lots. An above ground people mover (high enough to accommodate an A380 underneath) will connect the CTA, existing Bradley, and the new midfield concourse. But the most shocking thing is that the CTA will only serve the midfield concourse while the existing Bradley terminal will continue to have its own check in area. My head hurts.

And the best part of all? This will not expand the number of gates on property. Thanks to an ill-advised agreement with the surrounding communities, the number of gates is fixed at the airport, so they’ll just close down the remote gates at the far west end of the airport when these new ones open.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. There’s a separate project that has yet to be funded that will put a people mover around the airport and connect it out to the parking lots and metro rail. I like that idea, but I hate the idea of spending what will likely exceed $10 billion on a project that could be done for far less if we weren’t trying to dazzle the world.

In my opinion, we could ditch the fancy design and put function over form here. Yes, I’d like to see a nice open airport with lots of light, but does it need to have a roof that looks like waves of the ocean? I would say not. I’d much rather have the user fees stay lower so that we can attract more service. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things happening in this project that should certainly be happening, such as . . .

  • Sterile connectors between Terminal 3, 4, and Bradley will be built so that travelers don’t have to leave security to get between them all. I wish we would see more connectors like that built all around the airport so connections could flow more freely.

  • There will be far better shopping and dining options at Bradley. I realize that’s not hard to do since it’s pretty much devoid of everything behind security now, but this is a big deal in terms of passenger convenience.

  • This project eliminates the need to use the remote gates. Amen.

  • The new concourse will give more space between Bradley and T3 on one side and T4 on the other. That means that planes from each terminal will be able to push back simultaneously and taxi out without having to take turns waiting for the other side to go. This will be a huge productivity gainer for the airport and especially for American and Alaska which sit on the other side of this alleyway.

  • They say they’ll redo the customs and immigration facilities so you no longer have to push your heavy luggage up a ramp after you get through the process. There is nothing like watching someone who is exhausted after 12 hours on a plane have to push their luggage up.

If just those things alone were fixed, you’d see a significant increase in user satisfaction at the airport. I’ll say it again, I think the design looks good, but we don’t need a good-looking design to be a functional airport. The more money that gets spent, the more that has to come out of passenger pockets down the line.

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