Courtesy of Natalie Gochnour
Natalie Gochnour, right, helps break ground on the new Salt Lake City International Airport construction. Because the airport saved money for the rebuild, secured FAA grants, and negotiated gate fees and royalties with the airline and car rental companies, this money is a net increase to the Utah economy, not a redistribution of tax dollars. This means it makes the economic pie bigger and creates greater prosperity for Utah. And we get all of this without spending any local taxpayer dollars.

I just completed eight years of service on the Salt Lake City International Airport Board. During this time, I observed air traffic controllers doing their stressful work, TSA officers screening luggage in their high-tech monitoring area, airline employees supervising the automated luggage sorting system, airport police working with their bomb-detecting dogs, a wildlife officer keeping birds away from the jets using pyrotechnics and raptor traps and the incredible airport staff servicing more than 23 million travelers annually. The SLC Airport is a wonder to behold.

As instructive as all of these experiences have been, none compare to the importance of the day I held a ceremonial shovel in my hand and helped break ground on the new SLC Airport. This completely new airport is a first-class gift to the Utah economy and on my list of the top three most important economic events of the past 15 years (the other two are I-15 reconstruction and the hosting of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games). We need to recognize this gift, express our gratitude to those involved and then enjoy the fruits of this massive investment in our future.

The economic significance of the airport begins with its sheer scale. By my calculations, it is the largest public works project in the history of Utah, weighing in at $3.6 billion. Because the airport saved money for the rebuild, secured FAA grants and negotiated gate fees and royalties with the airline and car rental companies, this money is a net increase to the Utah economy, not a redistribution of tax dollars. This means it makes the economic pie bigger and creates greater prosperity for Utah. And we get all of this without spending any local taxpayer dollars.

Each day there are somewhere between 750 and 1,600 construction workers on site. Mike Williams, the airport redevelopment program director, estimates local contractors have received two-thirds of the contracts awarded to date.

I call the benefits to Utahns a triple play. We get the economic benefit of the construction, the long-term life quality advantages of a modern, high-quality airport and the economic certainty that Delta Air Lines will retain Salt Lake City as its Western hub for the foreseeable future. Delta Air Lines currently employs a sizable 3,000-4,000 people in the Utah economy and is an important corporate citizen.

The new facility will be extraordinary. The short-term parking garage will increase from 1,200 stalls to 3,600 stalls. Each of the five levels of the new parking structure will be about the size of three football fields laid end to end.

The number of full-service gates will increase from 56 to 78 in the new airport, ensuring more flights and more choices for travelers. Watch for Salt Lake City to continue to secure more nonstop domestic and international flights.

TRAX light rail will bring passengers right to the terminal. With a burgeoning metropolitan area, rail transport to the airport will grow in popularity. Rental car service will continue to be on-site, which is a huge plus for Utah’s convention and travel industry.

We will have an improved LDS missionary greeting area, a pet relief area and clean and comfortable lactation rooms for nursing mothers, all in a nonsmoking environment.

After reminding us that the airport rebuild was on time and on budget, new airport director Bill Wyatt said in my final board meeting, “I’m not trying to give this an optimistic report, this is an optimistic report.” I wholeheartedly agree.

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Thanks to great planning, the competent administration of the Salt Lake City Council and mayor’s office, a great corporate partner in Delta Air Lines, and the hard work of thousands of staff and construction workers, the gateway to our remarkable capital city and state is being completely transformed. Next time you visit the Salt Lake City International Airport, slow down because of the construction, count the cranes and then crack a great big smile. This is another Utah success story in the making.