Security upgrades delayed at LAX

Published 24 April 2007

$342 million effort to install in-line baggage explosive system now said to cost $873 million; city feuds with feds over reimbursement

They say it never rains in southern California, so we do not know why there should be so much delay in completing the enhanced security arrangements at Ontario and Los Angeles International Airports. In 2003, local authorities undertook an ambitious endeavor to install at both airports in-line explosives detection systems — an effort intended to free up space in lobbies (croweded spaces are a prime terrorist target) and increase the speed of screening checked luggage. Sadly, the initial estimates for the project were wildly off-base. Originally expected to cost $342 million, officials now say the true price will be $873 million; where the completion date was once 2007, it will now take until at least 2010.

The main reason for the delay, airport officials say, is due to the complexity of the construction work. The builder has to rip out three miles of existing bag belts (being certain all the same to make sure the airports baggage continues to flow), and it suffers the burden of removing a number of three ton explosives detection machines. All of this turned out to be more expensive that originally anticipated, and there are grave disputes over who should pay for the whole thing — with the federal government having offered in 2003 to reimburse the city’s airport authority 75 percent of the initial $342 estimate. Under what seems to us to be somewhat specious logic, “airport officials argue that because the TSA approved the revised designs for the two airports, the city should be reimbursed 75 percent of the new amount.” Needless to say, the federal government does not agree. “TSA has no obligation to amend the [agreement] or to reimburse the city of Los Angeles for any additional costs,” the GAO claims.