Construction experts and politicians gathered on May 17 at historic Union Station in Los Angeles to discuss the challenges of delivering major infrastructure projects in Southern California and the Western U.S. Led by United for Infrastructure (UFI), the event coincided with the end of Infrastructure Week 2024 and featured panels covering topics such as transportation and water projects, future energy needs and climate issues. 

A highlight of the event was a panel discussion entitled The World is Coming to Town… Are We Ready? which focused on getting new infrastructure ready for the millions of visitors to Los Angeles for the upcoming 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympic Games. Speakers included Ernesto Chaves, senior executive officer in the Office of Strategic Innovation with LA Metro; and Mike Christensen, interim chief development officer with Los Angeles World Airports.

Christensen said Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) $30-billion capital program is nearing the halfway point. He said projects such as the $2.9-billion Automated People Mover (APM) and the $1-billion LAX Consolidated Rent-A-Car Facility (ConRAC), along with a series of terminal projects will be operational in time for the World Cup and the Olympics. 

The approximately 6.3-million-sq-ft ConRAC facility will house over 18,000 rental cars, accommodating a rental car leaving the facility approximately every two seconds during peak hours. The ConRAC facility will provide direct connection to the APM train system, which features a 2.25-mile elevated guideway with six stations. 

Christensen also mentioned the Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) South project, which will add approximately 150,000 sq ft and eight gates to Tom Bradley International Terminal. Utilizing a construction technique called Offsite Construction and Relocation (OCR), MSC South will be prefabricated in nine segments about a mile away from the project site and then delivered and assembled in place. 

“One of the reasons for this technique is that in the airport world, to bring material and labor onto the airfield to build is extremely inefficient because of security requirements for clearing individuals, materials and tools, so any labor you have to expend when you have to do that is dramatically downgraded in terms of efficiency,” said Christensen. 

Chaves mentioned Metro's Mobility Concept Plan that includes 15 projects. Some of these projects will convert existing street lanes into bus only lanes in key arterial corridors in the city, while others will enhance existing Metro stations to improve connectivity and customer amenities to serve more riders. 

“We are here today to highlight the need for funding for these projects because we don't have a lot of time to build before the Olympics get here in 2028,” says Chaves. 

Another session, titled Preparing for Drier Dries and Wetter Wets, focused on water projects in the region. Moderated by AECOM’s Beverley Stinson, global water business line leader, the panel included Jill Kurth, a senior vice president with LA Metro; Barbara Romero, director with the LA Dept. of Sanitation; Aram Benyamin, COO of Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP); Mami Hara, CEO of the US Water Alliance; and Adel Hagekhalil, general manager with Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. 

Benyamin noted that in LA, many pipes are 140 years old. He said that as agencies such as LADWP invest billions of dollars in decarbonization, renewable energy, and new infrastructure, it is critical to ensure that water and power for the four million people in his area remains working. To help accomplish this, he says that over the next 20 years, agencies are investing about $20 billion into sustainability and reliability as they build renewable infrastructure. 

“The question is how can we work together and coordinate with the partnerships that we form to make sure that as we are spending all these resources that we are actually solving the problem of sustainability from a comprehensive perspective, because a lot of the conversations are going to be about water capture, recycling and reuse because that resource is not going to get any better as we move into climate change and densifying the metropolitan area,” said Benyamin.

Hagekhalil added that climate change is a big challenge facing water resources and the implementation of new infrastructure. “And if we do it alone it's going to be cost-prohibitive, but if we work together with other agencies and across the entire Colorado River watershed of seven states, we can leverage our resources and it's going to be a lot more doable and implementable and less costly.”