Provo • With an explosive blast sending dirt and red-white-and-blue smoke skyward instead of merely turning the traditional shovels of dirt, Provo broke ground Wednesday on a new $40 million airport terminal that state and local leaders figure will attract some explosive growth in commercial air service.

Instead of the current one gate and four flights a day from Allegiant Air to Arizona and Los Angeles, the new terminal will feature four gates with perhaps 20 flights a day initially. Plans call for it to expand eventually to 10 gates and maybe 62 flights a day.

The cost is a fraction of the massive $3.6 billion project to rebuild Salt Lake City International Airport 50 miles to the north. The new Salt Lake airport will have 77 gates. It currently offers 370 flights a day to 98 cities with nonstop service and expects more when the project is completed.

Still, officials call the Provo project as much of a game changer for Utah County as the Salt Lake airport may be for the state when it comes to economic development and convenience.

“This changes everything,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at the groundbreaking. “It’s not just Utah County. It’s a whole bunch of rural Utah” that will benefit from shorter drives to air service — including his own travel from his home in Sanpete County.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, state legislators and dignitaries broke ground on Provo Municipal Airport expansion project on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. Phase one of the project, will build a four-gate terminal, baggage claim and TSA stations at the cost of $41 million, with room to expand to 10 gates in the future.

Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee said local officials predict that the bigger airport will “open the floodgates of awesomeness,” and bring $300 million in additional economic activity a year initially.

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said by attracting more commercial air service, “Provo City is taking flight, literally and figuratively,” saying a bigger airport may especially boost the area’s universities and high-tech businesses.

Provo Airport Manager Steve Gleason said Allegiant Air has sought to expand service in Provo but was blocked by the lack of gates. He said other airlines also often express interest in service to Provo when facilities become available.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) An Allegiant airliner lands at the Provo Airport as Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, state legislators and dignitaries broke ground on Provo Municipal Airport expansion project on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. Phase one of the project, will build a four-gate terminal, baggage claim and TSA stations at the cost of $41 million, with room to expand to 10 gates in the future.

“We’re always looking for more airlines. I think everybody sees that as an inevitability. It’s going to happen,” Gleason said.

So he sees no problem keeping the initial four new gates busy.

“It’s not going to be enough,” he said. “It will be enough for the next five to 10 years. But we’re building it in a way so that we can expand it.”

Gleason said people in Utah County and areas to the south love the convenience of the Provo airport, not only because of a shorter drive but also for its close parking, quick baggage service and short security lines.

“If you fly out of Provo once, if you can you will never fly out of anywhere else again,” he said. For Utah County residents, “When you land in Provo, you realize you’re 15 minutes away from your bed. It’s incredible.”

Gleason said the new terminal, designed by MHTN architects, used nearby Squaw Peak as inspiration. Plans call for at least one gate to have a jetway so that passengers will not need to walk onto the tarmac in bad weather.

The new terminal is being funded with an $8 million federal grant, $9 million from the state, $4.3 million from Utah County and about $19 million from Provo.

Kaufusi praised the partners helping the city, and said it will bring benefits to the county and state — including reducing traffic congestion by reducing trips to Salt Lake City International Airport, reducing pollution and bringing regional economic development.