Guest Commentary

No to a new KCI: The process was rushed and questions were left unanswered

The process to determine the future of Kansas City International Airport should be started over from scratch, writes Roger W. Dutton.
The process to determine the future of Kansas City International Airport should be started over from scratch, writes Roger W. Dutton. File photo

The issue in Tuesday’s election is not whether to construct a new airport, but rather the configuration of Kansas City International Airport. The City Council has spent weeks drafting the ballot to cloud the basic issues.

I attended many of the citizens task force meetings at City Hall in 2013 and 2014, and I have listened to the recording of the committee tour of the current airport. During these meetings, the following comments were brought up and, to my knowledge, were not addressed:

▪  Experts on security stated that a single terminal with one large security checkpoint would result in a large “soft target.”

▪  Airline representatives at one of the early meetings stated they could service either type of airport.

▪  The projected growth in flights was not supported by current data.

The committee members were repeatedly told that their vote was not final and that other factors would be addressed. On the final scheduled meeting at City Hall there were still some concerns expressed. Because of time or scheduling issues, the meeting there ended and reconvened that afternoon in a meeting room in the basement of Union Station, where a consensus was reached. The meeting was open to all, but saw minimal public attendance.

The original design of the current airport was based on a survey of Kansas City passengers’ travel patterns. This survey showed that the vast majority of passengers either initiated or concluded their travel in Kansas City. Therefore, the design criteria were to provide convenience to those passengers.

The only major change in the airline industry is the need for security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the introduction of the hub concept by the airlines. The design of KCI provided for expansion to a fourth terminal, if needed. The changes in security could be accommodated by moving the security entrances into the center of the existing terminals.

The mayor and Aviation Department have continued to try to convince the voters of Kansas City that a single terminal is best for the city. The original idea was to announce a deal with Burns & McDonnell that had been devised with private financing. After The Star uncovered the surprise plan, the city devised a bidding system open for other proposers to offer competitive bids. The original plan was flawed, and did not meet the bonding conditions of the city charter.

The City Council selected a successful proposal with no final drawings or details of the project, or solid figures about the total cost will be. This is unprecedented in publicly financed projects of this magnitude. This concept will likely result in cost overrun (with estimated costs now at $1.3 billion).

Major Sly James has publicly stated if the vote Tuesday is a no, we must start all over. This is the best plan and should be done by establishing an airport authority, similar to the PortKC port authority or the streetcar authority. Establishing an airport authority would result in the design concept, construction and operation being performed by informed professionals, independent of politics, with input from the Kansas City community.

Roger W. Dutton is a retired partner and executive vice president at Black & Veatch.