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Salt Lake airport's 'once-in-a-lifetime' redesign now approaching $3.6 billion

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's massive airport redesign currently underway is on track and on budget for a 2020 opening that will bring incredible opportunity to Utah, the city's new airport director says.

'The citizens of Salt Lake are going to end up with one of the best airports in the U.S.," Bill Wyatt, new executive director of Salt Lake City's Department of Airports, said Monday.

Wyatt came to Salt Lake City after retiring as the CEO of the port of Portland, Oregon, last fall after the airport's former director, Maureen Riley, retired after years of overseeing the now more than $3 billion airport expansion.

In the months since he took the Salt Lake position, Wyatt said he's become familiar with a project that, compared to other airport redevelopments in the nation, will be likely the most "transformational," bringing with it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Once the project is complete — including a new south concourse set to open in 2020 and a north concourse slated for 2024 — the new airport will be "vastly more efficient" and will have the ability to expand gate capacity in the future "virtually as far as the eye can see," Wyatt told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards.

The overall cost of the airport project has risen gradually as it's progressed, first from $1.8 billion to $2.6 billion after the north concourse was announced in 2016, then to $3 billion in September.

Acknowledging that costs of the project have been a moving target, Wyatt said the current cost is now set at roughly $3.6 billion.

He said the actual cost of such a large project would be fluid until contractors sign on a firm bid, and currently about 65 percent of the entire project is now under guaranteed contracts.

He said if the price changes, it would be at requests of the customer — and often times Delta, the airport's main airline, has its own requests.

"Delta comes in about once a week and says, 'We want this and we're willing to pay for it,'" Wyatt said.

For example, those requests have included a larger sky club, a lounge with food and beverage and other services Delta reserves for club members.

"But of course any increase in price is something they're going to be paying for," he noted.

The project is being completely funded through the airport's self-sustaining fund, meaning no taxpayer dollars are paying for the project.

But will user fees rise to accommodate the costs? Wyatt said by the time the project is done, Salt Lake City will still have the one of the lowest costs per passengers.

In return, Wyatt said he expects the Salt Lake City International Airport to see more international service, including more flights to Asia.

The new airport will be "stunning," Wyatt said, with designs that reflect the natural landscapes of Utah and terminals that will be brand new. Once completed, all old buildings will be torn down.

"What will remain is a brand new airport," he said. "Everything is going to be new and it will be the only truly new 21st century airport in the U.S."

One of the highlights of the project has been plans to bring the Utah Transit Authority TRAX station directly to the new south concourse's terminal — though plans to elevate the station's "Gateway Center" have changed after a previous agreement with UTA and Salt Lake City fizzled due to lack of funds.

Wyatt said the decision to keep the TRAX station at ground level was a "very good decision," and one that will save $60 million. He said the ground-level model will mirror Portland's model, where he said "nobody is inconvenienced" by riding a set of escalators up to the terminal.