20 Years Ago Today: Groundbreaking For The “Fully Automated” Metro Green Line…But Why Doesn’t It Go To LAX?

Metro Green Line P-2000 car at Rosa Parks Station

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Metro’s Green Line groundbreaking.  The 23-mile long rail line connects Norwalk in the east to El Segundo and Westchester in the west.

Speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony held at the future Aviation / LAX station thanked the audience for their long-range support of the then-planned 300-mile Los Angeles County Transportation Commission rail system.

Distinguished guests included the newly-appointed California Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing Carl D. Covitz; Congressman Glenn Anderson; Los Angeles County Supervisors Deane Dana and Kenneth Hahn; Long Beach City Councilman and LACTC Chair Ray Grabinski; Los Angeles City Councilmember Ruth Galanter and others.

The original Green Line plans called for the first fully-automated rail rapid transit line in the United States.  At the time, the only other completely automated systems were in London, Vancouver and Lille, France.

The Green Line was never built as fully-automated, and perhaps more importantly, it never did make it into LAX.  One of the recurring questions in Los Angeles transportation is…why?

Groundbreaking, January 28, 1991. Click image for more information

The Green Line’s western alignment was originally planned and partially constructed to connect with LAX, but the airport was in the planning stages of a major remodeling during the line’s construction.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) wanted the connection to LAX to be integrated with this construction, but there were concerns that the overhead rail lines could interfere with aircraft.

Additionally, neighboring communities expressed reservations about the airport expanding its footprint, and LAX-area parking lot owners were concerned that a direct rail connection to LAX could create competition.

As a compromise, a free shuttle from the Aviation / LAX station was created – a service that continues to this day.

Writing a few years ago in the Daily Breeze, Gene Maddaus offered up more analysis.  He asked how could Los Angeles transportation officials have spent $700 million to build the Green Line and have it terminate just short of the nation’s third-busiest airport?

Legal issues involving the Century Freeway resulted in a 1979 federal consent decree that allowed transportation officials to move forward with the Green Line, with a proviso for more affordable housing near the freeway.

Concept for MTA Green Line North Extension interfacing with LAX PeopleMover

The mass-transit line was slated for the median of the yet-to-be-built I-105 freeway in order to minimize further disruption to the surrounding community.

Meanwhile, LAWA was at work on it’s “People Mover” plan, a monorail-type service that would connect all passenger terminals to an off-site location.

The FAA voiced its concern that a rail line would interfere with navigational equipment, and an underground line would make costs soar.

An exhaustive technical memorandum was released in 1992 titled “Investigation Of All Potential Negative Impacts On Landing Capability At The Los Angeles International Airport Due To Installation Of The Metro Green Line At Its East Boundary.” (219p. PDF).

The Metro Board of Directors approved the certification of the final supplemental environmental impact report (54p. PDF) for a Metro Green Line Northern Extension to LAX, adopted its findings, approved the project, and recommended continued “coordination with the Department Of Airports towards establishing a funding mechanism for the Northern Extension.”

The LAX/Metro Green Line Interagency Task Force has studied numerous proposals and conceptual alternatives for extending transit service into LAX.

The Task Force’s 2007 Report Proceedings (124p. PDF) provides several maps and diagrams for an extensive array of possible transit interface options for the airport area — the image above is just one of several discussed in detail.

Twenty years after groundbreaking, fifteen years after service commenced and two years after a funding source was created (passage of Measure R in 2008), plans for Green Line service to LAX are still on the drawing board.