Is $2 billion too much for new KCI terminal? Airport project price hikes need to stop

A New KCI: How the proposed rebuild compare to other airports

We traveled to airports in Indianapolis, Raleigh and Florida to compare KCI in general design, number of passengers and gates.
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We traveled to airports in Indianapolis, Raleigh and Florida to compare KCI in general design, number of passengers and gates.

The Kansas City region just got another dose of bad news — the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport, once projected to cost $1 billion, will now cost closer to $2 billion.

City officials and project developer Edgemoor offered several explanations for yet another price hike. Financing costs have risen. The building will be 40 percent bigger than once thought. Labor and materials costs are rising.

They hasten to add, again, that taxpayers won’t pay for the ballooning price tag. They’re right — but they’re not being completely honest when they argue “the airlines” will pay for the new terminal.

Airlines won’t pay those higher costs out of their own pockets. Most of the cost will be passed on to passengers, who will face higher ticket prices — and, perhaps, higher parking fees and prices at airport restaurants and shops.

Enough. Edgemoor and City Hall must ensure the latest price hike is the last by quickly signing an agreement firmly capping costs at the $2 billion figure.

Talks between the developer and the Aviation Department about that agreement have been underway for months. The airlines that use the airport are part of those talks as well. City Hall is expected to hear from the airlines’ representatives later this month.

In fact, it’s increasingly clear the airlines are the primary force behind the entire airport project, and the cost escalation that goes with it. The airlines have asked for four additional gates and the infrastructure to expand beyond that in future years. Other changes have also been made at the airlines’ request.

That almost certainly means higher costs for fliers. The terminal project, for example, will include larger waiting areas than originally planned. That would be welcome news if cost were no object. But smaller waiting areas may be warranted if costs continue to spiral out of control.

We’re increasingly concerned that passengers and airport users lack a seat at the table. City Hall and the Aviation Department, firmly gripping last year’s voter approval of the project, cannot act as if any price is acceptable. They must insist on reasonable protections for ticket buyers and other airport users.

City officials point to experiences in other cities, where new terminals have not dramatically increased ticket prices. Fair enough. But we’d feel a lot better if the airlines made a public commitment to keep costs low, and to stop asking for more upgrades for the project.

The new terminal remains important for the city and the region. We’ve written before that prices are likely to go up, so this latest announcement is not a complete surprise.

But semi-surprises need to come to an end. The city, Edgemoor and the airlines should reach a comprehensive agreement on costs and terminal design, sign it, and start turning earth. Say, before the snow flies at KCI.