December 1, 2005

Ambitious $11 billion L.A. airport upgrade shelved

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An ambitious $11 billion
construction plan to expand and modernize Los Angeles
International Airport -- the world's fifth busiest -- was
effectively shelved on Thursday when officials agreed to limit
growth and go back to the drawing board.

Los Angeles City Council approved key parts of the overhaul
a year ago. It envisaged expanding capacity nearly 30 percent
to 78 million passengers a year, realigning a runway and
building a new transit hub and an elevated "people mover."

It was to be the first upgrade of the airport since 1984,
but local residents concerned over noise and extra traffic
filed lawsuits challenging the expansion plan, which was also
questioned by security experts and the Los Angeles mayor,
Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa and the plan opponents said on Thursday they
had reached a settlement to end the dispute that would attempt
to cap traffic at 75 million passengers by 2010, up from a
projected 62 million in 2006.

Officials also agreed to study ways of spreading air
traffic to other Los Angeles-area airports.

The original "master plan may not be dead but the
settlement allows this mayor to give it a serious lung and
heart transplant," said Mike Bonin, an aide to councilman Bill
Rosendahl whose district includes Los Angeles Airport.

Plans for a controversial passenger transit center will be
studied further and possibly scrapped. Local communities will
get $266 million over 10 years for noise and traffic reduction
projects and job training and agreed to drop state and federal
lawsuits that had threatened to block the project.

Lydia Kennard, executive director of Los Angeles World
Airports, said all sides had agreed to work out their
differences rather than fighting it out in court.

"It would be a much better scenario if we could settle and
come to terms with our disagreements rather than to continue in
court and have one party be victorious and have the other
continue with appeal after appeal," Kennard said.

Only the rebuilding of the southern runway to improve
safety will go ahead as originally envisaged. The outdated
international departures and arrival terminal will be
overhauled and explosive detection machines installed.

A new master plan could be released by January 2007.

The last improvements were carried out to ready the airport
for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.