Editorials

Out of the gate, KCI delay and rising costs are red flags for the airport project

A New KCI: How traffic will flow once construction begins

Kansas City voters strongly approved a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport. This is when and where you can expect to see changes.
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Kansas City voters strongly approved a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport. This is when and where you can expect to see changes.

Edgemoor Infrastructure, the firm chosen to design and build a new, world-class terminal at Kansas City International Airport, recently said the cost for the project has gone up, and the finish date has slipped by almost a year.

Both announcements were expected. But they are important warnings signs for the region, the traveling public and for those charged with oversight of the massive project.

The higher price and construction delay suggest the need for much closer scrutiny of progress, or the lack of it, at KCI.

The project is now estimated to cost up to $1.4 billion, 40 percent higher than voters were told last November. Airport officials have blamed the increase largely on four extra gates added to the design.

But gates don't cost $100 million each. Cost inflation at the airport is also due to other design changes, costlier materials and construction delays. City Hall, Edgemoor, and the airlines must be much more transparent on cost challenges as the project moves forward.

Remember: The traveling public will pay that additional $400 million, one ticket at a time. Fliers deserve a full explanation of why their costs are going up.

The finish date is even more troubling. In November, voters were told to expect an opening in late 2021. Now the opening is unlikely to happen until late 2022. The delay will increase costs, while extending the inconvenience for fliers who will have to navigate a construction zone to use KCI for several additional months.

Edgemoor and airport officials have offered several dog-ate-my-homework explanations for the slipping schedule. Kansas Citians will accept those excuses just once. They should not countenance any further delays.

Edgemoor

City Council members are quietly complaining about a lack of transparency from the company chosen for the airport project. They think Edgemoor should be much more open about its work and much more communicative with the public about progress at KCI.

We agree. Edgemoor must understand the singular importance of this project: Every eye in the region is watching. This isn't a $100,000 contract for curb repair. It's one of the biggest public works projects in city history. The company should be much more visible and proactive with city leadership, media, community groups and others.

There should be no more surprises.

Stalled labor negotiations are also a concern. We support Edgemoor's position that providing jobs to disadvantaged workers and businesses is more important than a 100 percent union workforce. But as one prominent business leader pointed out to us recently, Edgemoor does business with unions all the time. Why can't they make a deal?

The Aviation Department

One explanation for the construction delay is the city's misunderstanding of Federal Aviation Administration rules. The FAA wants the city to wait until environmental assessments are complete before contracts are let. The city didn't know that.

Mistakes are unavoidable on any big project, but this missed communication is a warning flag. It's possible, perhaps likely, that Aviation Director Pat Klein is facing challenges with which he is unfamiliar.

Klein works hard and has the city's interests at heart. But it's time for Kansas City to seek an aviation director familiar with the massive undertaking of building a new airport. It should begin a nationwide search for such a person now. There should be no shortage of candidates eager to apply.

Oversight

We've argued before for a regional airport authority to oversee operations at the airport. It's a good idea, but one that can't be implemented quickly.

At the same time, the City Council is ill-equipped to give the airport project the attention it deserves. That isn't the fault of elected officials: They've got lots of things to worry about.

That's why Kansas City should create a civilian airport board, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. The oversight board could meet as often as necessary to review the terminal project, hold administrators responsible and communicate with the public and other stakeholders.

Kansas City has a parks board and a port authority but lacks an airport authority. This seems short-sighted with a $1.4 billion project underway.

Mayoral candidates should be asked their views on this idea. We think the best candidates will endorse it.

Voters made the right choice last November to renew their aging airport. It's now time for stakeholders to deliver what was promised: a world-class facility, on time and at a reasonable price.

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