In a disagreement between two of the region's largest economic engines — aviation and entertainment — airlines at Los Angeles International Airport are protesting a request by 20th Century Fox to close portions of the 105 Freeway and Imperial Highway this fall to film scenes for the latest Bruce Willis action flick, "Live Free or Die Hard."
The dispute surfaced in an Oct. 2 letter to Film L.A., the organization contracted by the city and county of Los Angeles to issue permits to studios. Airport officials said closing two roads that provide access to LAX would cause traffic backups that could inconvenience passengers, delay deliveries to cargo carriers and hamper construction on the southernmost runway.
"The studio's proposal to close both directions of Imperial Highway from Nash Street to Aviation Boulevard would have significant impacts on LAX passengers, workers and air cargo businesses operating on the airport adjacent to Imperial Highway," Samson Mengistu, assistant executive director of the city agency that operates LAX, wrote to Steve MacDonald, president of Film L.A.
Cargo carriers especially are upset, claiming that filming could cost them thousands of dollars in delayed deliveries during their busy pre-holiday season. But filming advocates say that they will take steps to mitigate inconveniences and argue that such projects are crucial to keeping studios from taking location jobs elsewhere.
The studio has asked Film L.A. for permission to shut down Imperial Highway, on the south side of the airport, in both directions from Nash Street to Aviation Boulevard, from Oct. 27 through Oct. 29, Nov. 1 through Nov. 5 and on Nov. 11 and 12.
It also has requested that the California Film Commission, which issues permits to film on state property, allow the closing of parts of the 105 Freeway, also in both directions, from the 405 Freeway to Sepulveda Boulevard on Oct. 28 and 29, Nov. 4 and 5, and Nov. 18 and 19.
Shooting would take place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on those weekdays, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekends.
Although the filming would occur on Imperial Highway, lanes on the 105 Freeway would be closed intermittently "for safety reasons" to ensure that looky-loos aren't peering over the highway to watch the action, MacDonald said.
Traffic figures gathered by the city's airport agency show intersections that would be affected by the closure are heavily traveled, including the corners of Imperial and Aviation, which handles 4,800 vehicles an hour during peak times, and Imperial and Nash, which tops out at about 4,200 vehicles per hour.
Freeway traffic is much greater, with 117,000 vehicles a day traveling the 105 at Douglas Street, CalTrans reports show.
If permits are issued, traffic on Imperial will be diverted one mile north to Century Boulevard or one mile south to El Segundo Boulevard, "already two very busy streets," Mengistu said in his letter.
The studio said it is working with the airport, airlines and permitting organizations to address traffic concerns.
"We're all really excited to make a big movie in Los Angeles," said Gregg Brilliant, a company spokesman. "We're looking forward to … resolving whatever issues come up and shooting the movie in a way that doesn't adversely impact anybody."
Permits would not be issued until traffic mitigation measures are in place and CalTrans and the California Highway Patrol sign off on the highway closures, said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission.
Because filmmakers plan to use pyrotechnics and a helicopter, their plan also must pass muster with the Federal Aviation Administration.
To close Imperial, the studio also would need a plan to reroute and ease traffic, and permission from the city's Board of Public Works and Transportation Department, MacDonald said.
But some airlines say that's not good enough, adding that traffic on streets around cargo facilities near Imperial Highway is congested on normal days.
Carriers also dislike the proposed alternate route, which would force six lanes of traffic onto a two-lane service road, affecting the more than 400 trucks and vans using area cargo buildings at any given time.
"The economic damage that can occur by closing Imperial Highway is quite substantial," said Stephen Lachter, a senior partner of Lachter & Clements, who represents Cargolux Airlines International, a cargo carrier at LAX.
The filming would occur during the airlines' pre-holiday season, when more cargo trucks than usual are scheduled. Carriers said they would consider taking their business elsewhere during filming to limit inconvenience and ensure that shipments don't miss their flights.
"Because of the traffic backups, it will not allow trucks that are coming to our buildings to drop cargo off in a timely fashion," said Don Houchen, president of the Los Angeles Air Cargo Service Managers Assn. and cargo operations manager for Singapore Airlines at LAX.
"If, because of traffic, they're not able to get here by the designated time, that plane leaves and the cargo is left behind."
But entertainment industry advocates said it is essential that aviation officials and the studio find a solution.
Movie production in California is already down dramatically this decade, from 24% of feature films shot entirely in the state from 2003 to 2005 to 11% projected this year, Lemisch said.
"Live Free or Die Hard" shot in Baltimore last week, where it snarled traffic as motorists watched Willis strip off his leather jacket as he stood atop a car seconds after a dump truck rammed a bus.
"We're not shutting down the airport," Lemisch said. "It's always a balancing act always finding the balance between what the production company needs and what businesses, or communities, can live with."