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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Leon Nelson, construction director for HD, left, talks to journalists on a tour atop the new south concourse as construction work continues on the new Salt Lake City International Airport on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — After more than a decade of planning, the $3 billion redesign of Salt Lake City International Airport is taking shape, moving from paper to steel.

More than 21,000 tons of steel, in fact, so far.

Construction crews have spent the past four months using almost 20 cranes at a time to erect an average of 30 to 40 tons of steel per day for the first major building — the South Concourse-West.

"It's very exciting," Mike Williams, airport redevelopment program director, said as he stood on the roof of the new concourse building.

Salt Lake airport officials Friday gave media a behind-the-scenes tour and one of the first looks of the massive construction site — the state's largest public project.

Salt Lake City Department of Airports

It's so massive, it involves a calendar that includes more than 25,000 "activities" or individual projects with their own deadlines, said construction director Leon Nelson.

How to coordinate such an overwhelming undertaking?

"I think of it as directing a symphony," Nelson said.

The new airport will eventually have two new concourses, replacing the three aging terminals with one central terminal building, along with a new public parking garage with twice as many stalls. Over time, all the existing terminals, parking garages and concourses will be demolished.

The first phase of construction — including the completion of the parking garage, terminal and South Concourse-West — is expected to be finished in 2020, Williams said.

The North Concourse-West's completion is slated for 2021, while the east portions of both concourses are expected to open in 2024, Williams said.

As the new South Concourse-West stands now, it's roughly 600 yards long, with 4,500 tons of structural steel, he said. It will eventually accommodate 25 new gates, with more room for aircraft to navigate than the current concourses.

When the north concourse is built, an underground tunnel will connect it to the south concourse. The north concourse will accommodate 30 gates, with room to expand by another 15 gates in the future.

"It will be a more efficient airport," Williams said, for both passengers and aircraft, noting that it will have more room for retail, food and places to "sit, relax and wait for your plane."

Soon the steel structure for the new terminal will begin rising out of the ground, Williams said, connecting the concourses to the parking garage with pedestrian skybridges.

"The terminal will be very impressive," Williams said, noting that a "gateway center" will connect the terminal to the parking garage as a place for people to drop off their luggage and get their tickets before crossing into the new terminal.

Leading up to the new terminal's front door will be two roadways — an elevated road for passenger drop-offs and a ground-level road for pickups.

"That will help with congestion," Williams said.

Williams added that the new airport has been designed with many large windows to remind passengers of the state they will have landed in.

"You will be able to see all the beautiful mountains in the surrounding area," Williams said. "The colors of the new facility will all remind you of the colors of Utah."

So far, 18 massive concrete columns, each more than 7 feet in diameter, have been installed for the elevated road. More than 670 other concrete columns have been installed for the parking garage.

About 700 workers have been hired so far, but about 2,000 are expected to eventually work on the project, Williams said.

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The redevelopment project is being completely funded through the airport's self-sustaining fund, meaning no taxpayer dollars are paying for the project, said airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

Instead, the funding is coming from airport savings, passenger charges, rental car charges, federal grants and airport revenue bonds.

The cost for the project, however, has increased from $1.8 billion to $2.6 billion after the north concourse was announced in May 2016. Since then, its budget has increased even more because of rising construction costs.