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In our opinion: Airport expansion reflects the growing vitality of Utah's national and global links

Published: Friday, July 25 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Rendering of the $1.8 billion terminal redevelopment project of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Provided by Salt Lake City International Airport

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The forthcoming expansion of the Salt Lake International Airport, one of the largest public works projects in Utah history, will have a sizable impact on the efficiency of domestic and international air travel. It will also elevate the stature of the community it serves in a way that will pay dividends for decades to come.

The dimensions of the project are impressive. At $1.8 billion, the cost is comparable to that of the giant rebuilding of I-15 through the Salt Lake Valley, which cost $1.5 billion in 2001 dollars. It will cost more than the sprawling National Security Agency complex in Bluffdale, and carries a price tag slightly higher than the total amount of money the state spends annually on all transportation construction and operations.

It will be paid for with revenue from fees and taxes associated with travel and not require any new levies on Utah citizens. The expansion will contribute more than $3.3 billion to the state’s economy and employ 24,000 people during the eight-year construction period. The effect on the airport itself will be transformative.

It’s important to note that Salt Lake International is already one of the country’s best airports. It ranks 94th among the world’s top 100 airports, and is one of only 15 American airports on that list. It is currently ranked as the most efficient airport in the U.S. as measured by the percentage of on-time arrivals and departures. It is the 21st busiest airport in the country, even though the Salt Lake metropolitan area ranks 35 in population.

The new airport will be even busier, more efficient and in terms of aesthetics, a sleeker, grander and more welcoming threshold for the millions of visitors who pass through its gates. For many, it will deliver their first impression of Utah, and architectural plans suggest that impression will be a good one. The terminals will have glass walls that offer floor-to-ceiling views of the Wasatch range and will incorporate design elements planners say are intended to convey a “sense of place.”

The logistics of rebuilding an airport while keeping it fully operational means there will be some level of disruption. Planners promise it will be minimal, and in any case, the end result should justify temporary inconveniences.

In an increasingly interconnected world, an airport is among the most important components of a city’s infrastructure. Aside from serving the utilitarian purposes of air travel, the new Salt Lake Airport will also serve as a proper reflection of the area’s growing cultural and economic vitality.

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