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Salt Lake International Airport undergoing major rebuild

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -You’ve no doubt noticed it while driving along I-80, or when you’ve dropped off or picked up someone at the airport, Salt Lake International is undergoing a major rebuild. At $3.6-billion, it’s Utah’s largest public service project ever. Recently, the project directors reached out to KSL-TV and offered to take us on an up close, exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of this massive project.

The airport has been renovated many times, but this is different, in that’s it’s a complete rebuild. When it’s all done, the airport that we all are familiar with now will be demolished and a distant memory.

Photo: Keith McCord

Our tour began at 7 AM on a recent Tuesday. “Welcome to the Tuesday safety meeting. I appreciate everybody being here.” Superintendent Robert Issacs, using a sound system, addresses every construction worker on this project. Currently, there are 1,300 workers, and each week they gather in a huge mass on the tarmac. Before any work begins, Issacs reminds them of the most important job here: safety. “[Make sure that we’re] watching out for one another, staying on task, and when we see something that’s not right, we say something. We help each other out. OK guys?”

The 15-20-minute stand-up meeting usually winds up with a few stretching exercises, and then, they’re off. The emphasis on safety quickly becomes apparent, as we entered the main terminal. Everywhere you look, there are workers up high on steel beans, down low with a welding torch; other are operating large pieces of machinery, using specialty tools, and the noise, well, what you might expect.

This is certainly a unique project. It involves tearing down an airport, building a brand new one in the same place; while still operating an airport at the same time.

Photo: Keith McCord

“We decided that it was really the best thing to do to rebuild rather than remodel and we’re really going to be the newest most modern airport in the country because airports just don’t get rebuilt in this country very often,” said Kevin Robins, Director of Engineering Salt Lake Department of Airports.”

In fact, the average age of an airport terminal in the U.S. is more than 40 years old. The last time a new airport was built was 22-years ago…in Denver.

The official beginning of this new project began back in July of 2014 with various dignitaries and airline executives taking part in the ceremonial “shovel turn”.  “It’s pretty phenomenal when you look back at how we started and how we got to where we are today,” says Airport Redevelopment Program Director, Michael Williams.

Now it’s full speed ahead, with structures and other amenities starting to take shape.

Photo: Keith McCord

–The new parking garage will be 5-stories tall, with 36-hundred spaces; compared to the current 18-hundred;

–Some of the escalators and moving walkways in the main terminal are already in place;

–Huge window panes are being installed in what will become a restaurant and waiting area overlooking the airfield;

–Down below, 6 miles of conveyor systems are in the final stages, soon to handle thousands of bags each year.

“It’s designed for over-sized bags,” Williams says. “We know we have a lot of skiing, golf clubs, bike boxes because we have year round outdoor recreation here, so the baggage system is sized for that, which is unique for our location. “

Outside, you can see some of the colored façade already in place on the terminal walls, the copper and red rock tones giving the airport a definite look and feel of Utah. Surveys conducted with passengers and the local community indicated that everyone wanted the new airport to be a showcase for our state. “The colors of the facility will be a little more unique than a normal airport. It won’t be gray or white; it will be more copper tones and warm colors inside,” Williams said. Robins adds, “You’re not going to wonder, oh yeah, I’m on the fourth day of a business trip, what city am I in today? You’re going to know you’re in Salt Lake.”

Project managers say there are more than 25,000 “activities” taking place on this project on any given day. That is, everything from welding, hanging drywall, pouring cement, installing glass… etc. An “Orchestrated Dance” for sure.

Photo: Keith McCord

Salt Lake International has been operating for more than 50-years. Originally, it was built to handle 11-million passengers, but today, 24-million people come through here, 324 flights each day, straining the entire operation. “We don’t have enough gates, the hold rooms are undersized, restrooms and concessions are undersized, and people feel it, Robins says. “So when we open we’re going to have a facility that’s adequately sized and be able to accommodate growth into the future.”

In August 2020, the west half of the south terminal will open; followed by the north terminal a couple months later. When those open, construction of the east half of the south terminal will begin, while at the same time, demolition of the existing airport will take place.

Photo: Keith McCord

Both Williams and Robins have been designing and building airports for years… this one is one of the best. “I’d say it’s a 10-plus,” Robins says. “I mean every day its new challenge.” Says Williams, “Yeah this is a phenomenal project. it’s not often that you get to rebuild an entire airport.”

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