November 1, 2012

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Ready for Takeoff

Salt Lake City International Airport is Set for an Upgrade

Gaylen Webb

November 1, 2012

Robins adds that contractors will bring in most of the construction materials through “back doors.” Local travelers can expect the greatest amount of impact due to changes in the terminal roadway system. Temporary roads will detour traffic around the construction zone and drivers will have to navigate a rather sharp curve as they exit in front of Terminal 2 around the existing parking garage.

Further, the temporary road configuration will change occasionally to accommodate the construction of a new, elevated roadway system. Nonetheless, Robins insists the detours and road construction will not be any more inconvenient than some of the road changes that have been made to accommodate the construction of light rail to the airport.

Toward the end of the construction project, when the airport remodels Concourses B, C and D, travelers may have to be tunneled or funneled through that construction zone, he says.

Because the economy is soft and far from recession-proof, Riley says the TRP was developed in discrete phases that allow for flexibility in decision-making throughout duration of construction. For example, if there’s another economic downturn, if demand changes, or if another catastrophic event like 9/11 occurs, there are logical stopping points that will allow for a strategic reassessment of future phases.

“It isn’t like once you start you are fully committed to the entire construction project,” adds Robins.

In this era of shrinking airline service, Riley says it’s challenging to entice new carriers into a market, especially to a hub airport like Salt Lake City International, so the focus of the TRP is to improve airfield operational congestion and consolidate some terminal activities, which will help to reduce airline operating costs.

“We can best protect the hub by keeping our costs affordable,” she adds.

Footing the Bill
The airport’s effort to keep costs affordable will be aided by its ability to pursue the TRP without spending any local taxpayer dollars. Riley says there are multiple sources of revenue available to pay for the construction. Funding sources that will help pay for the terminal, gates and roadways include money from the Federal Aviation Administration, passenger facility charges, airport revenue bonds and airport funds. Meanwhile, the new rental car facilities and the new parking garage will be paid for by customer facility charges and by airport funds.

The airport operates as an enterprise fund with a self-sustaining budget. It has no debt and carries more than $250 million in reserves to put toward the TRP. However, because the TRP was configured based upon conceptual planning estimates, the Department of Airports will be watching the budget closely.

“The one thing I know about planning estimates is that they are usually wrong,” says Robins. “We can’t forecast escalation or inflation over the entire construction period. Our target budget is $1.8 billion investment, but we’ll be watching things closely.”

He adds that the TRP has the support of Delta Air Lines, which accounts for approximately 75 percent of the airport’s flights, and the other airlines. “They all agree this is the best way for us to proceed. We are in agreement that building new facilities is a better approach than remodeling.”

Despite the fact that passenger traffic at the airport has been slowing due to reductions in airline service, Riley says she expects long-range passenger traffic at Salt Lake City International to continue to grow. “We must position the airport to accommodate future growth for the next 50 years, and to allow the airport to expand incrementally when the need arises,” she says.

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