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Government shutdown could have implications for Kansas City single terminal project

Animated renderings show proposed approach to new KCI terminal

Animated renderings show the proposed approach to the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
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Animated renderings show the proposed approach to the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

There may be a new snag on the road to a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport: the federal government shutdown.

President Trump’s fight with Congress over funding for his border wall has halted a portion of federal government operations, and only “essential” personnel are working. That has implications for KCI because the Federal Aviation Administration has to approve an environmental assessment before crews can begin work.

Until recently, it appeared the shutdown would not be a factor, but aviation officials said Thursday that it could.

“My guess is that the shutdown will affect the EA, but I can’t say for sure because the regional office has been unclear on some of the departments — who’s working and who’s not,” Aviation Director Pat Klein told the City Council Airport Committee.

Aviation officials had been working to get signatures on one portion of the assessment from several Native American tribes and the State Historic Preservation Office. It outlines procedures to be followed if anything of archaeological significance is uncovered after work at the site begins.

The assessment still needs approval by several departments within the FAA.

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who chairs the committee and is running for mayor, said it was her understanding the Midwest regional workers at the FAA had been moving the environmental assessment through the process.

“Now as it starts to move up the...ladder at the FAA, there may be some supervisory-level folks who are furloughed,” she said, adding the city was trying to figure out who was working.

She said it was “too early to know” whether and how long the shutdown might delay the approval.

The environmental assessment isn’t the only hurdle the project has to clear before construction can start.

“We’re still waiting for the airlines, so nothing’s happening right now anyway,” said Mayor Sly James. “We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out — can’t predict the future on that.”

Committee members learned more than two months ago the airlines that serve Kansas City were struggling to come to an agreement on how to share costs at the new airport. Two smaller carriers balked at the $1.64 billion price tag, saying it was too expensive for them to bear and remain competitive.

Until the airlines sign on, the project is expected to remain stalled.

Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, who is running for mayor, said he was intrigued that the shutdown could affect the project because members had been told previously that wasn’t the case.

He expected the project would keep moving forward and was more concerned about the airlines reaching an agreement.

Lucas said members had been hearing since November that a deal was close.

“My question is what can we do to make sure we’re not sitting around in another 10 weeks and saying, ‘Yeah, we’re still close to consensus?’” Lucas said.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.