KCI choice comes with a cost, consultants tell task force

03/11/2014 10:20 AM

03/11/2014 7:09 PM

With a looming deadline for a recommendation, the KCI citizen task force still has a difficult choice to make for the airport’s future:

Undertake major renovations at two existing terminals that will likely cost in excess of $700 million and won’t solve all the airport’s problems. Or build a new single terminal and solve all the problems –– but be ready to spend $800 million to $1.2 billion.

“A new terminal solves a lot of problems, but it all comes at a cost,” Garfield Eaton, a consultant with Frasca and Associates, said Tuesday after a two-hour presentation to the KCI Terminal Advisory Group. “What is a cost that the community is comfortable with? And is it buying what you want for the future?”

Eaton said a new terminal would fix all of Kansas City International Airport’s aging infrastructure problems, improve security and operational efficiency, provide for larger aircraft and international flights, increase parking and baggage capacity, and improve the passenger experience past the gates. It also would solve environmental issues with de-icer contamination.

The consultants said they also have received renovation proposals from professional architects that solve some, but not all KCI’s deficiencies, at a somewhat lower cost. Options include expanding and repurposing existing terminals, or constructing a central security facility that links two existing terminals, which would be repurposed as secured passenger concourses.

The renovation option could cost more than $700 million, although more precise budget estimates don’t yet exist.

The key problem with doing major renovations to two of the three terminals, the consultants said, is that buses or an expensive people mover would still be needed to link them. If two terminals are connected by a central security facility, that increases distance to the gates, might affect convenience and increases operating costs. Renovation also doesn’t allow for bigger aircraft, new gates or airlines, and doesn’t address de-icer contamination.

Task force members began weighing the two options Tuesday, but came to no conclusions. Their recommendation is expected in late April.

One airport designer who has provided an alternative is John Murphy, with Dallas-based Corgan Aviation. Murphy was in the audience Tuesday and said he has been involved with airport improvements at Austin, Dallas Love Field, Dallas-Fort Worth and numerous other airports.

He said that he believed KCI’s two terminals could be extensively renovated and enhanced for about $700 million, and that it’s an alternative the city should seriously consider. His concept would keep the two terminals separate and would not involve a centralized security facility.

“I think we can achieve virtually everything they’re wanting for a lot less money” than a new terminal, Murphy said, although he acknowledged it would need much more detailed work to confirm the budget.

One issue that the consultants sought to dispel Tuesday is the idea that no new airport terminal can be as convenient as KCI. Although KCI ranked as the most convenient medium-sized airport in a 2010 J.D. Power and Associates survey, the consultants pointed out that KCI actually ranked fifth among all airports in that survey. Among those it ranked behind: Indianapolis and Fort Myers, Fla., both of which have built new single-terminal facilities in the past decade.

Task force co-chairman Dave Fowler said that testimony was revealing.

“A new airport can also be convenient to passengers,” he said.

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