If you follow the winding white lines past Terminals 1 and 2, it’s hard to miss the new behemoth rising above Salt Lake City International Airport. While the new traffic pattern prevents you from stopping too long to take a look at what’s taking shape, you know it’s something big. So big, in fact, Bill Wyatt, the airport’s new executive director, calls it the largest construction project in the history of the state. This isn’t a redevelopment or a redesign, as many have mistakenly called the $3.6 billion project, Utah is getting an entirely new international airport, and as Wyatt points out, it’s likely the only new hub airport to be built in the U.S. this century.
To construct a project of this size without taxpayer money is truly remarkable. The multi-billion dollar development is instead being completely funded through the airport’s self-sustaining fund. I spoke with Wyatt to get an update on the project and learn a little bit about what Delta’s commitment means to the economic future of the Beehive State.
“There isn’t another place in the country that can handle this kind of project,” said Wyatt. “There are two things that Salt Lake City has, the space—the airport owns a lot of land, but the other thing, and this is the piece that people overlook, the vision. The existing concept for the new airport was visualized in the early 90s.”
Wyatt explained how the airport and Salt Lake City had to take several steps, decades ago, to create the possibility for what they are accomplishing today. For example, Wyatt points to the tunnel, which will eventually connect the two new concourses, that was constructed in 2004 with the help of a grant. “$8 million in 2004 was a lot of money to sink into the ground without a clear guarantee that the larger project would ever materialize,” said Wyatt.
It’s not that surprising that many passengers, even locals, aren’t quite clear on exactly what’s taking place at the airport, because the project was designed so that construction would not disrupt operations. It’s an impressive feat considering the size and scope of this project. On any given day, 15,000 people work at the airport. That’s on top of the 24,000 local passengers who pass through daily and the 30,000 connecting passengers on average. Throw in the 1,600 trade workers currently working on the new airport development project and you’ve got the population of a small city within a few square miles.
When it comes to the workforce, Wyatt says 75 percent of the trade contracts for the construction project are from the Wasatch Front. For the local economy, it’s estimated the entire project will result in 24,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in wages. While they’re working on an economic development report on the project, Wyatt estimates the impact of the new airport development will be in the $5 to $6 billion range.
“Salt Lake City, itself, is a relatively small city,” said Wyatt. “If it weren’t for the fact that Delta Airlines is operating this hub here, Salt Lake would have an airport closely resembling Colorado Springs.”
Instead, Salt Lake City has daily non-stop flights to 95 locations in the country and across the world—something Wyatt says is extraordinary for a community of our size. “When you’re recruiting businesses to this area they’re going to want to know about air service. If we’re not already there, we’re going to be there soon,” said Wyatt. “Delta, in order to complete the contract, has extended its lease until 2034. They stand behind the financing of the airport.”
An impressive airport it will without a doubt be. It will eventually have two new concourses, a central terminal building called the Gateway Center where all local passengers will check in and go through security, an elevated roadway to provide the much needed space for passenger drop-off, and a new parking garage with 3,600 stalls—more than double the space of the current garage.
Once through security, Wyatt described what passengers will experience in the area called The Canyon. There will be an immense art installation that will replicate the canyons of Utah which will be able to change colors depending on the season, a new dramatically expanded food court, and a huge window wall that opens up to Utah’s spectacular vistas. “It will be one of the most remarkable views of any airport in the nation,” said Wyatt.
Once the airport project is complete, including the new south concourse scheduled to open September 15th, 2020, and the north concourse in 2024, Wyatt says it will be vastly more efficient. “For the average local passenger, there are aspects of the voyage that are going to be longer, but other aspects that are going to be faster, such as airport security,” said Wyatt. “It’s something I think about a lot. People love being able to drive up the curb and run right in. One thing people will be struck by is when they use the new airport is the scale of it.”
While Salt Lake City International Airport currently ranks as the nation’s 23rd busiest passenger airport in the nation, with an estimated 24 million passengers passing through in 2017, Wyatt promises the size, scope and design of the new airport will certainly put it at the top of the rankings when it comes to overall passenger experience.
If you’d like to follow the progress of the airport construction project, visit: https://www.slcairport.com/thenewslc/construction-updates/