The trek across the Salt Lake City International Airport is getting shorter. Just give it another two years.
Construction on the so-called Central Tunnel, the straight-shot route from the main security checkpoint to concourse B, is now halfway complete. When it opens in October 2024, travelers no longer will have to snake through concourse A and then navigate an underground walk to get to their B gates in the outer reaches of the airport.
“This will be a really significant, and, I think, fabulous improvement in the airport experience,” Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, said during a tour Tuesday.
The new tunnel not only will speed up travel times for some passengers but will also relieve congestion on concourse A, which now experiences large crowds from those trying to access the lone, long tunnel to the B gates.
The journey to the B gates has been a major source of criticism for the airport since its 2020 debut and the butt of many jokes. In some cases, the walk to a gate can stretch more than a half-mile and take more than 20 minutes.
The new tunnel will trim the walk from security to concourse B by more than 1,000 feet.
Escalators to the roughly $80 million Central Tunnel will be accessible in the plaza passengers enter immediately after passing through security.
Workers began pouring concrete in the nearly 1,200-foot tunnel at the beginning of July 2021. Before it can open to passengers, crews will need to build a new entryway on concourse B that will display the terrazzo world map from the old airport.
The map, a favorite fixture in the former airport, delighted travelers for decades. When the new airport took off, crews removed it from the old terminal and stashed it for safekeeping.
When complete, the tunnel will feature a new art installation by Gordon Huether, the same artist who created “The Canyon” installation on the walls of the plaza after the security checkpoint.
“The River Tunnel,” as Huether calls it, is designed to give passengers the experience of walking at the bottom of a flowing river, with specialized lighting, custom terrazzo flooring and piped-in nature sounds or music curated just for the tunnel.
The artist said he wants his work to calm passengers as they make their way through security lines and find their gates.
“The whole idea,” Huether said, “is that it is a holistic, fully immersive experience that will make you maybe forget a little bit about being in an airport, and you’re going to be thinking more about celebrating the natural beauty of Utah.”
Travelers walking through the tunnel will have six moving walkways to help the flow of passengers. The new tunnel gives airport officials more room to work with, so they are looking at additional mobility options like electric carts.
The Central Tunnel contains enough space for two trains to carry passengers, though they are unlikely to be installed until a third concourse is built.
Wyatt said swelling passenger volumes mean planning on a concourse C could come by decade’s end.