More information and, of course, more controversy emerged Thursday as elected officials moved a step closer to deciding the future of Kansas City International Airport.
The most crucial new detail: Consultants finally released figures that said building a new, single terminal would be upwards of $200 million cheaper than renovating the current structures.
To be clear, no proposal is inexpensive. The proposed costs in 2015 dollars range from $964 million for the lowest-priced new terminal to $1.19 billion for the most expensive renovation. Airport users would pay for much of any improvements through ticket fees, parking and concessions. City tax revenues are not at stake, an important point to keep in mind throughout this debate.
The general conclusion favoring a new terminal sounds sensible to people like Mayor Sly James and many others in the civic community who favor replacing the current, outdated terminals. Consultants, working with the airlines that serve KCI, so far have said a new terminal would be convenient for passengers, offer larger waiting rooms and more restrooms for screened passengers, and include modern technology.
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Still, some City Council members — absent an unhelpful temper tantrum from Teresa Loar — spent a business session Thursday posing legitimate concerns that will require solid answers in coming months.
As Quinton Lucas noted, it’s a good idea to provide elected officials with a complete examination of the pros and cons. Eventually, that could help a mostly united council and mayor rally behind whatever plan is given to voters — likely in 2017 — to do something to KCI.
While we understand and applaud the questions, the council members also are responsible for doing their own homework on this massive project. Plenty of numbers, facts and figures already have been compiled by a citizens advisory group as well as consultants in the last two years. Reports have been prepared. Read them, council members, and you will have a better understanding of what’s going on.
Moving forward, the consultants and airlines need to provide the public and city officials with even more data and a better understanding of exactly how and why a new terminal would make the most sense.
At City Hall, a few other council members correctly asked the question that continues to be uppermost in the minds of many Kansas Citians: Can the city somehow keep the current terminals — and the drive-up, convenience factor that so many residents love — instead of building an all-new terminal?
This is going to be a major talking point for critics of a new terminal. At one point, council member Lee Barnes Jr. wondered whether engineers had offered guidance on solving the security-related concerns in the existing terminals.
The consultants responded by pointing to evolving security requirements that could make an adaptation impossible. In addition, just renovating or updating the current facilities could make it more difficult and costly to add the infrastructure and amenities that modern airports feature these days.
Still, the only way to put this issue even partly to bed is to provide more specific evidence on how revamping the current terminals would fall short of adequately serving the interests of passengers and airlines in the long run.
It is encouraging to see that new council members appear ready to fully engage on what could be one of the biggest decisions they make over the next four years. As that happens, James and other boosters of a new terminal need to keep an eye out for how compromises could help the best possible plan get voter approval.
Council members Scott Wagner and Jolie Justus properly wondered what a final report might look like. For instance, will it give elected officials options to consider in what they want in a new KCI, allowing them to scratch off items they think are lower priorities? The consultants and airlines have to develop precise numbers for the project to help with this line of inquiry.
Airline representatives were not at Thursday’s hearing. They reportedly are working among themselves to determine how far they want to go financially in backing a new terminal. Their goal is to provide service at KCI, of course, but also to make a profit.
City officials want to avoid doing too little or too much or anything that could lead to fewer flights and fewer choices for local travelers.
All of this remains an extremely complicated project, with many moving parts. The information released Thursday was helpful because it showed the consultants and airlines have made progress toward refining a desirable vision for KCI’s future.
However, as the pushback from some council members showed, the public needs to see more compelling evidence that a single terminal makes the most sense. That’s a reasonable challenge that must be met by promoters of a new KCI.