Will KCI terminal project be on time and on budget? More transparency is needed

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The timetable for cutting the ribbon on Kansas City's new airport terminal is slipping.

A representative of Edgemoor, the company selected to design and build the new facility, told a City Council committee Thursday the opening may slide until 2022, six to 12 months later than originally thought.

Kansas City Aviation Department officials were more vague, but the implication is clear.

Several factors have contributed to the potential delay, the company said: The Federal Aviation Administration's environmental review was pushed back. The financial package still needs work. Four gates have been added to the original design.

Those all sound like reasonable explanations for revising the completion date. But how can Kansas Citians be sure? Must we take Edgemoor's word for it?

No. In fact, City Hall should begin now to insist on a public, independent review — in real time — of all of the work on the new terminal. That includes costs, spending, design, deadlines, all of it.

As it turns out, there's a potential mechanism for doing that.

The City Council is nearing agreement on a contract with a company called Paslay Management Group to serve as the "owner's representative" in any discussions involving Edgemoor, the airlines and others taking part in the terminal project.

It isn't cheap. Over four years, Paslay could earn nearly $48 million reviewing documents, contract compliance, schedules, inspections and other parts of the project.

It is important work. Independent review of the terminal project is essential to ensure Edgemoor and other stakeholders do what they say they'll do. City Council members understandably lack the expertise to perform full oversight of one of the biggest public works projects in Kansas City history.

But Paslay's independent judgment cannot remain secret. The City Council doesn't own Kansas City International Airport — the people do. That means the owner's representative should represent the people's interests, not just the politicians'.

And the people, who overwhelmingly approved the new terminal, must have absolute confidence that promises have been kept, that the project remains world-class and that Kansas Citians will benefit from the investment.

The City Council should insist on regular reports from Paslay. It should then make those reports widely and publicly available. The work should reflect compliance on minority hiring, overall costs, safety matters, schedule and other issues of public interest.

That doesn't seem like an excessive ask from a firm earning $1 million a month to represent the people in KCI discussions.

The reports should be time-sensitive, too. It doesn't do any good to review Edgemoor's performance well after the fact when remedies are limited. If the company falls short on a commitment in April, the public should know why in May so it can be fixed.

To her credit, Aviation Committee chairwoman Jolie Justus said she would consider the concept. Next week, the council is expected to consider a plan to appoint a citizen board to oversee compliance with the community agreement attached to the KCI project. That's a good idea, too.

To be clear: There is no evidence that the airport project has veered off course, or that the public is in danger of getting something less than it wants at KCI.

But the project is underway. Millions of dollars are being spent. Decisions made now will affect Kansas Citians for two generations. There will not be a second chance.

Full transparency and oversight are essential. The City Council should act now to make sure both are a reality.