Everything you wanted to know about the Salt Lake City International Airport expansion

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

Security lines at Salt Lake City International Airport, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The plan is still conceptual, Maureen Riley warns. How it will be executed is unclear, and it's likely to change over the next eight to 10 years.

That's the reality of the planned $1.8 billion rebuild of Salt Lake City International Airport, its executive director said.

Riley has remained rooted in reality as she's fielded questions during the past month about redevelopment plans for the nation's 26th busiest airport.

But beneath the pretense of practicality, Riley is as enthusiastic as anyone to see the airport she's headed since 2007 address longstanding seismic risks and accommodate projected growth in passenger levels.

"I think generally people are very supportive and excited," she said.

They also have plenty of questions about the project, including its price tag, its lengthy timeline for construction and even its necessity.

During the next six months, plans will be refined. And city and airport officials said they want the project to remain flexible throughout construction to accommodate an ever-evolving industry.

"That's a great advantage for us, especially with a project this size," Riley said. "We're taking some time up front to really plan the entire 10-year construction period, which in the end, I think, will work as an advantage for us."

Here are answers to key questions about the expansion, first announced by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker during his State of the City address in January.


Where is the $1.8 billion coming from? Will tax dollars be used? Will it cost more to fly, rent cars, check baggage, etc.?

Becker called the airport expansion a "massive undertaking" and said there would be "no additional burden on Salt Lake City taxpayers." And airport officials said they can fund the project without slapping travelers with additional fees, either.

Is it true? The airport already has more than $250 million in the bank to put toward the project and to use as security for $302 million in general airport revenue bonds.

"That puts the airport in a good position to start on a project like this," Becker said.

Much of that money has been saved since 2008, when the airport retired its debt from previous construction and renovation projects, said Barbara Gann, airport spokeswoman.

The airport also has been setting aside funds for more than a decade to replace or renovate terminals and concourses, some of which are more than 50 years old.

"We knew, with these aging facilities, we'd need to pay to keep renovating them or replace them," Gann said.

The project's financing plan also calls for the use of passenger facility charges — a fee levied by the Federal Aviation Administration on every leg of a flight. Because the project would enhance safety by addressing seismic concerns at the airport, those funds could be used for the rebuild, if approved as expected by the FAA.

The airport also plans to use the fees to back $557 million in revenue bonds.

Another funding source is fees collected from rental cars. Those fees already are being charged and rates are not expected to increase, Gann said.

The only cost increase would be incurred by airlines for rental and landing fees. Under the proposed financing plan, airlines would pay 3 cents more per passenger — from $3.58 to $3.61 — in fees to the airport. That would still rank among the lowest in the nation. Denver International Airport, for example, charges $12.24 per passenger.

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