Residents of Los Angeles spend an average of 93 hours stuck in traffic per year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute--by far the highest degree of congestion in any American city. Frustrated drivers who turn to L.A.'s public transportation system--historically something of a joke--don't find the going much smoother, as the feature on p. 44 of this magazine shows.
But if L.A. itself is sclerotic, the city at least has gotten better about moving people and products into and out of the area more quickly. One case in point has been the construction of the Alameda Corridor, the $2.4 billion multimodal thoroughfare connecting the ports of L.A. and Long Beach with the nation's rail infrastructure. And, after years of bickering and lawsuits, the city and its neighbors have finally reached agreement on a much-needed expansion of the airport.
Construction is set to begin this spring on a $300 million reconstruction of two southern runways at LAX to replace the current collision-prone set-up--a top priority for both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Federal Aviation Administration. The south runway project will be just the first step in an $11 billion modernization of the facility.
The deadlock was finally broken when the city made several concessions to environmentalists, neighborhood groups and surrounding jurisdictions. Perhaps most important was a promise to cap the total number of passengers that will pass through the airport. But L.A. also agreed to pay $266 million over the next 10 years to other localities, mostly to pay for noise and traffic abatement. Overall, it was a classic negotiated agreement of a type too rarely seen. Everyone gave up something, but everybody got, in the words of Segundo Mayor Kelly McDowell, "a heck of a lot more than they gave."
There are countless details still to be worked out. An agreement for a multi-jurisdictional working group to take a regional approach to air travel is pretty vague--and will be dependent on help from the struggling airline industry. But, instead of fighting with each other, local officials are now fighting over credit. "It's truly an historic settlement," says Paul Haney, of the L.A. airport authority. "It really opens a new era of peaceful and productive relations between the airport and its neighbors."