The first phase of rebuilding the Salt Lake City International Airport is at a midpoint: construction began three years ago, and opening is scheduled in another three.
So airport officials took the news media on a tour Friday of construction of what eventually will be a $3 billion project, scheduled to have all phases fully completed in 2025.
“It’s getting exciting now,” said Mike Williams, airport redevelopment program director, as he looked over vast fields of new foundations, support columns, a small army of 600 workers, 19 cranes lifting steel and supplies, and several buildings rising from the ground.
He says the scene will become even busier soon — with an expected 2,000 construction workers at its peak.
He stood atop the new south concourse building, which will house 25 new airport gates in its first phase and more later. It is far enough along that crews are starting to enclose it, and are working on baggage handling systems in its lower level.
Williams smiled envisioning how the building will eventually look. It will be more spacious than current gate areas, so “it will be easier to find a place to sit, relax and wait for your plane.” It will have “more retail space, and more food and beverage offerings.”
He adds, “It will give everyone a beautiful perspective and remind you that you are in Utah. … There will be a lot of windows, and you will be able to see all the beautiful mountains in the surrounding area. The colors of the new facility will all remind you of the colors of Utah.”
Steel will start rising next month on the new terminal — home of ticket counters, security checkpoints and the baggage claim. “The building will start coming out of the ground pretty rapidly now,” Williams said.
Support columns for a new parking garage also are rising. “It will be twice the size of the one we have today,” he adds.
It will connect to a “gateway” building where people can drop luggage and obtain tickets also, and cross walkways into the new terminal.
New 7-foot diameter columns are also in place for a new two-level roadway system.
“That helps with the congestion in front of the terminal building,” Williams said. “You will have one level where you will drop off at ticketing, and then a lower level where you will pick up passengers.”
The first 4 million square foot phase will include half of two parallel new concourses, and tunnels between them; the new terminal; the gateway building; the parking garage; new roadways; and several ancillary buildings.
Once that first phase is completed, “We’ll move everybody into this, and we’ll begin knocking down the other facilities in a phased manner. All other existing buildings at the airport will be demolished,” Williams said. As they are cleared, later phases will expand the new concourses.
Williams noted that the concourses’ parallel design will help speed aircraft operations. The current finger-like configuration sometimes leads to operations that box in airplanes, leading to flight delays.
Much of the work so far has included such things as building a new parking lot, a new rental car facility — and extensive preparation of the work area.
Construction director Leon Nelson said the high water table in the area near Great Salt Lake wetlands makes construction a bit tricky. The water level is just seven feet below the surface, but many of the tunnels and lower levels of buildings are 30 feet deep. That required installation of wells to drain the water during construction.
It also required pillars not only to support the weight of buildings in wet areas, but also pillars to anchor them when the wells are turned off later. “If we didn’t do the anchor piles, then the whole thing would float — so we would be on our oars rowing over to the Great Salt Lake,” Nelson joked.
Williams also said the baggage system for the airport will be 8 miles long, and actually was the first thing designed.
“The baggage system is such an integral system of the workings of the entire airport that you have to really lay it out first, figure out how it has to work and then protect that right of way and build the buildings around it,” he said.