Construction on Salt Lake City International Airport’s $1.8 Billion Facelift to Begin in 2014

Salt Lake City International Airport, one of North America’s most on-time airports, is about to undergo a $1.8 billion capital improvement program that includes construction of a new terminal, concourses, parking garage, rental car facilities, improved roadways and associated infrastructure.

Called the Terminal Redevelopment Program (TRP), the project is currently in the schematic design phase.

Salt Lake International Airport
Seven airlines and their affiliates serve Salt Lake City International Airport: American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways. Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

As a hub for Delta Air Lines and gateway to Salt Lake City and the state, the airport serves more than 21 million passengers annually. Salt Lake City International Airport is the 26th busiest in North America and 64th busiest in the world in terms of passenger numbers. There are about 645 scheduled daily flights from the facility serving more than 89 cities with non-stop flights, including daily non-stop service to Paris.

The new airport will be similar in its conceptual approach to Atlanta Hartsfield and Denver International, with one terminal building connected to linear concourses, says Maureen Riley, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. The new configuration is recognized as the optimal design for an airline hub operation.

Under the TRP, most of the airport facilities will be demolished and rebuilt in phases. The Salt Lake City Department of Airports expects construction to begin in 2014 and extend into 2025. When completed, the facility will feature one terminal and an apron for planes to park around linear concourses. Riley says the TRP will address seismic risk, solve operational problems like airfield congestion and accommodate growth while maintaining the airport’s competitive cost.

The project is also driven by the cost of maintaining aging facilities that are outdated. Terminal One, with its A and B concourses, is more than 50 years old, as is the central plant. Concourses C and D are 27 years old and the parking garage is 20 years old. Furthermore, the gate configuration does not easily accommodate an airline hub operation and begs for a redesign.

In October, the Salt Lake City Department of Airports selected Holder-Big-D Construction, a joint venture between Holder Construction Co. and EDCUtah investor Big-D Construction, as Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) for the TRP.

Construction will begin with relocation of rental car facilities to an unoccupied area west of the terminals. Construction of the new parking garage is anticipated to start in 2017 and the new terminal and parking garage are scheduled to open simultaneously in 2018 or 2019. Later phases include the demolition of existing facilities and renovation or rebuilding of concourses B, C and D.

The Salt Lake City Department of Airports will spend an additional $400 million during the construction period on other routine and ongoing airport improvement projects unrelated to the TRP.

For airline passengers, the TRP should improve nearly every aspect of the airport experience, including gates equipped to accommodate a variety of aircraft, modern and roomy facilities and more retail concessions. And during construction passengers will be separated from the largest portion of work because contractors will bring in materials through back doors.

Kevin Robins, director of engineering for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, says local travelers will experience the greatest amount of impact from changes to the roads. Temporary roads will detour traffic around the construction zone and drivers will have to navigate a new, hard left turn as they exit the airport. The temporary road configuration will change occasionally to accommodate the construction of a new, elevated roadway system. When the airport remodels concourses B, C and D, near the end of the project, travelers may have to be funneled through that construction zone.

The TRP was developed in discrete phases to allow for flexibility during construction. Riley says there are logical stopping points that will allow for strategic reassessment of future phases if another recession occurs or demands change. The TRP will be completed without spending local taxpayer dollars. Funding sources that will help pay for the terminal, gates and roadway projects include monies from the Federal Aviation Administration, passenger facility charges, airport revenue bonds and airport funds. The new rental car facilities and parking garage will be paid for by customer facility charges and airport funds.

The airport, which operates as an enterprise fund and has a self-sustaining budget, holds no debt and carries more than $250 million in reserves to put toward the TRP. The TRP has the support of Delta, which accounts for about 75 percent of the airport’s flights, and the other six air carriers. Robins says they all agree the TRP is a better approach than remodeling the airport facilities.

Long-range forecasts predict passenger traffic at Salt Lake City International Airport will continue to grow, and the TRP will position the airport to accommodate future growth for the next 50 years and allow the airport to expand incrementally as needs arise.