New Intermodal Center at Bob Hope Airport Doubles as Emergency Ops Center

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

The new $112 million Regional Intermodal Transportation Center at Bob Hope Airport (BUR) shows that access to the Burbank, CA, airport is an important priority. What's not so evident is that in the event of a major earthquake, it can serve as a regional command center for emergency operations.

Another less-obvious advantage is its positive effect on airfield safety. Moving BUR's former rental car pick-up and drop-off facility made room to expand the airport's  previously undersized runway safety area.

The center's primary and day-to-day function, however, is to improve connectivity for airport passengers, train and bus riders, rental car customers and even bicyclists. BUR's executive director, Dan Feger, sums it all up in one word: convenience. "Bob Hope Airport 'sells' convenience," Feger explains. "Having options that people can use to get to the airport other than getting into a car and fighting L.A. traffic is another form of convenience."

BUR is one of the few western U.S. airports with train service directly to the airport. Metrolink, which serves 55 stations throughout Southern California, and Amtrak both have stops there. Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus routes from the airport go to downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Burbank Bus covers various points throughout Burbank and connects with the Red Line subway system at North Hollywood Metro Station, which goes to Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.

"We're not the center of Los Angeles, we're the center of everything L.A.," Feger likes to quip.

The airport's location - near Los Angeles, but on notably stable ground - is also a strategic place for first responders to converge if a major earthquake hits Southern California. That's why BUR's new intermodal center was engineered to not just survive, but also remain operational, after a very large major seismic event.

In short, there are few other facilities in the United States like BUR's new Regional Intermodal Transportation Center.

What's Inside

The new 520,000-square-foot structure includes a three-level consolidated rental car facility, a customer service building for 11 car rental companies and a bus transit station. Passengers get to and from the multi-purpose center via a covered, elevated walkway that spans the 1,200-foot distance to the terminal - and eliminates the need for shuttle buses.

Overall, the center is the largest capital project ever undertaken by the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.

The Bob Hope Airport Train Station, which is served by Amtrak and Metrolink, is directly across the street. Funding to begin the design of a pedestrian bridge connecting the train station and intermodal center was recently authorized by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and announced at intermodal center's grand opening in late June.

A new five-level parking structure located between the terminal and intermodal center replaces about 1,050 parking spaces that were displaced by the intermodal center and elevated walkway.

Two Birds, One Stone

Two primary factors prompted the intermodal center project, explains Feger: the partial intrusion into the runway safety area by the former rental car ready/return lot and a lack of parking at the airport train station. 

With construction of a new consolidated rental car facility inside the intermodal center, BUR is now able to comply with the Congressional mandate for Part 139 airports to improve their runway safety areas by 2015. Previously, FAA had determined (and the airport authority concurred) that it was impractical to construct a full runway safety area at BUR because of nearby urban development and high improvement costs. In order to meet the 2015 deadline of improving BUR's runway safety area "to the maximum extent practical," the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority directed the airport to move its rental car facility somewhere else, despite prevailing space constraints.

Looking for solutions, the airport approached the city of Burbank. In addition to reviewing the requirement to move its rental car facility, it addressed the need to improve access to the train station and shared thoughts about addressing the two issues in one integrated facility.

The city, in turn, advised the airport that it had grant funding and an available site to build a bus station near the airport, but not immediately near the train station. Instead of building there, though, the city offered its grant to the airport authority, so BUR could incorporate a bus station into the rental car facility it planned to build near the train station. With the support of Congressman Brad Sherman, grant funds in the amount of $1.171 million (including a required 20% local match) were obtained through two federal transportation grant processes, administered by the Federal Transit Administration, in 2004 and 2005.

Because the people using the elevated moving walkway would primarily be airport passengers going to and from the terminal, FAA approved the use of more than $16 million in passenger facility charges to build it.

When the airport received initial construction bids for the intermodal/rental car center in May 2011, they exceeded available funding by $47 million. As a result, designers scaled back original plans for the building by one full level and moved the third-floor bus transit center to ground level.

The airport authority financed the project through multiple sources, including general airport revenue bonds, passenger facility charges, customer facility charges, federal grants, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority grants and airport authority funds.

Executing $112 million of design and construction with so many different funding sources proved to be the project's biggest challenge, notes Feger. Each of the principal U.S. Department of Transportation agencies involved - the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration and FAA - awards grants on a "funding silo" approach, he explains. Grants they disperse can only be used for their respective sphere of "modal influence" and responsibility. Highway grants, for instance, can only be used for roadways or access to other modes of transportation via roadways. Federal transit grants are primarily for bus and rail projects; and the FAA has very strict rules about using airport-derived revenue for off-airport purposes.

"The challenge was trying to find funding sources that do not step on each other or prevent an intermodal facility serving all modes of transportation from being built and improving connectivity," relates Feger. "We're hopeful that over time, the U.S. DOT will make intermodal projects easier to do; and it may take an act of Congress to make it happen. In fact, a recent report by the General Accountability Office highlighted the need for a new federal policy approach to facilitate plane-to-train linkages. That's probably one of the things that the industry should be looking at."

Ready for "The Big One"

The airport authority set high seismic standards for its new intermodal center and contracted Miyamoto International, an earthquake and structural engineering specialty firm, to realize them.

"A place like an airport needs to be operational following a major earthquake event," notes the company's chief executive officer, Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D. "The airport is an important hub for emergency response and reconstruction."

A facility that meets International Building Code requirements for earthquakes provides minimum life safety protection, but the building itself may not be useable or repairable after a large earthquake, Miyamoto explains. That's why his firm used a "better-than-code" approach for BUR's new transit facility.

The Regional Intermodal Transportation Center is designed to withstand a maximum credible earthquake - the largest earthquake capable of occurring under the known tectonic framework for a specific fault or seismic source, based on geologic and seismologic data. Also known as "the big one," it has a probability of occurring once every 2,500 years. International Building Code addresses earthquakes with an occurrence interval of once every 450 years. Earthquakes that have a higher probability of happening typically have less magnitude and ground movement.

The intermodal center at BUR includes more than 100 triple-pendulum-bearing isolators - modern devices based on a decades-old engineering technique, notes Miyamoto. Buildings constructed directly on the ground move with an earthquake's jarring motion and often sustain extensive damage as a result, he explains. When a building is constructed away (or isolated) from the ground using base isolator technology, it is effectively decoupled from the ground and will move less or not at all during an earthquake. The isolators essentially act as rollers, Miyamoto explains: Before the force from the ground reaches the building structure, it is reduced in the isolators due to friction that occurs there. To see a video illustrating the technology, go to 

In addition to using seismic technology, BUR benefits by the location of its runways. Because they lie on ancient riverbeds, where the water table is more than 250 feet below surface, liquefaction and runway breakup are unlikely to occur during an earthquake, explains Miyamoto.

After an earthquake, BUR officials are counting on the new intermodal center to sustain airport operations and serve as a disaster command center for the California Emergency Management Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, local responders and others.

Airport Police Chief Ed Skvarna details why the plan makes sense: "In a catastrophic earthquake, all the major overpasses will probably go down, so you won't be able to take people in or out by roads. A lot of the evacuation of injured people and a lot of the delivery of emergency supplies are going to have to be done by air. That will make this airport very integral to that response."

Emergency command post vehicles can be kept under cover on the first floor, and the center's backup generators will provide emergency power, he continues.

BUR's new beyond-code building could also potentially be used in other mass emergencies- functioning as a medicine distribution facility during an anthrax event, for instance. Its primary backup mission, though, is to serve as a massing point for earthquake first responders, advises Skvarna.

More Moves Ahead

Project: Regional Intermodal Transportation Center/Consolidated Rental Car Facility
Location: Bob Hope Airport
Owner: Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena (CA) Airport Authority
Total Cost: $112 million
Appox. Size: 520,000 sq. ft.
Ground Breaking: July 2012
Opening Ceremony: June 2014
Primary Components: Transit center served by Metro, Burbank Bus & Amtrak Bus; rental car facility/customer service building; elevated walkway to/from terminals; replacement parking structure
Funding: Bonds; grants; customer facility charges; passenger facility charges
Bond Team: Citigroup; Copelan Consulting; Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe; Public Resources Advisory Group; Ricondo & Associates; Richards, Watson & Gershon; Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth
Future Addition: Empire Avenue Pedestrian Bridge
Bridge Design/Construction: Los Angeles Co. Metro Transportation Authority (with funding from CA Transportation Commission)
Intermodal Center & Walkway Construction: McCarthy Building Cos.
Bid: $72.7 million
Parking Structure Construction: Bomel Construction Co.
Bid: $8.5 million
Architect of Record: PGAL
Other Design Team Members: Blymyer Engineers; John W. Cruikshank Consultants; Miyamoto Int'l; PBS Engineers; Anil Verma Associates
Program Manager: gkkworks/STV Int'l, with assistance from Elkin Construction Services; Heritage Tree Films; Del Richardson Associates
Environmental Document Preparation: Ricondo & Associates
Multi-modal Transit Connections Study: AECOM; STV Int'l
Program Highlights: More transportation options to & from airport; decreased traffic on nearby roadways; seismic isolators provide added earthquake protection

Rental Car Facility
Began Operations: July 2014
Rental Car Brands: 11
Funding: Rental car companies
Size: 3 levels; 1,000+ vehicle spaces

Access to and from BUR remains a priority for airport officials, as they continue trying to build a new passenger terminal. Built in 1930, the existing facility has simply outlived its usefulness, says Feger. In particular, it's too close to the runway and doesn't meet modern earthquake standards, he specifies.

Selecting a site for a replacement terminal has become a long-term frustration - for the airport authority, which owns and operates the airport, and the city of Burbank, which has jurisdiction over most of the airport area. In two decades, the two entities have yet to reach consensus about how to build a modern terminal able to serve current and future traffic, while protecting city residents from potential noise and traffic increases. When the existing terminal was built more than 80 years ago, the surrounding area was not completely developed, as it is today.

With the airport authority agreeing to build only 14 gates (the same amount that's in the current facility), Feger detects a positive change in community sentiment regarding a new terminal. The authority is consequently in the process of seeking approval from the city of Burbank to build a replacement terminal in the northeast corner of the airport, next to the main runway.

If the project is approved, BUR plans to use about half of the 100 acres it purchased from Lockheed Martin, when the aerospace/defense giant left Burbank. Interestingly, Lockheed owned the entire airport from 1940 to 1978, until the current multi-city airport authority purchased it.

Like the existing facility, the new passenger terminal will be intermodally connected. In early 2015, Metrolink plans to open a new station that stops at the north side of the airport, which will become the anchor for transportation connectivity to the new terminal building. Feger and other officials expect the new train line to be popular with passengers, since it will serve growing communities such as Palmdale, Lancaster and Santa Clarita.

Because the new Metrolink station will be located farther from the current airport terminal, BUR will provide buses that coordinate with the train schedules until the new airport terminal is built.

As BUR continues improving access to rail and bus lines, airport officials hope to encourage more passengers to forgo their cars for public transportation, Feger notes. Currently, the airport authority is researching a variety of options with an FAA grant that was secured decades ago but never "de-obligated." Strategies being investigated include adding new bus and rail service, modifying current bus connections and extending an existing subway connection to the airport. 

Spurring Change

Like many of his executive peers, Feger believes that airports can be powerful catalysts for redeveloping entire areas and regions. He cites the intermodal center that opened at BUR this summer as a prime example.

When reciting the familiar rationale about connectivity and access breeding commercial development, Feger emphasizes BUR's role as a catalyst rather than a sponsor or underwriter. "This is not something the airport does directly out of its own coffers, because it does not have the charter to do so," he stresses.

With redevelopment needed in many U.S. markets, Feger hopes that fellow airport directors will help create commercial momentum in their own backyards. "We believe more airports need to take on the role as a catalyst," he relates. "You can't just sit back and hope that others will fix the access problem ... Competition is very high for a limited number of dollars."

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