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Guest opinion: New airport terminal offers a chance to showcase Salt Lake City

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Construction continues at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, March 5, 2018.

Construction continues at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, March 5, 2018.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Steady, workmanlike progress on the new terminal adjacent to Salt Lake City International Airport signals the crowning achievement of a regional facelift and overhaul of transportation infrastructure along the Wasatch Front. While piecemeal projects across the country target quick fixes to prolonged growing pains at key points of connectivity across the country (New York’s aging metro, inadequate roads, and unwieldy John F. Kennedy Airport — none of which are efficiently connected), UTA, the Salt Lake Airport Authority and UDOT are delivering a modern transportation machine that situates Salt Lake City as a formidable competitor for regional growth in the Rocky Mountain region.

Such long-term vision — rather than temporary fixes to chronic growing pains to which the region has become accustomed — position the region for continued growth and development, which suggests a more robust economy offering high quality employment to families and potential residents eager to enjoy the lifestyle advantages as well as cutting-edge sustainable elements that have come to be expected along the Wasatch Front.

As these plans near completion, state and local authorities should take a few strategic possibilities into consideration.

First, an expanded Salt Lake City International Airport not only bodes well for a stronger international offering from legacy carriers, namely Delta Air Lines, but also opens the possibility for the inauguration of long-haul low-cost carriers, such as Norwegian Air, which, with industry acceptance of intercontinental aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and recent upgrades to the 7 series (757, 767 and 777), position Salt Lake City as a viable gateway to the Mountain West, inching upwards as a major U.S. hub. Domestic low-cost carriers have established a major presence in Salt Lake City over the last two decades, and such success suggests that a long-haul carrier with range to Western Europe could attract enough interest to enhance competitive international service from the doorstep of the crossroads of the West.

Second, city and airport authority leadership should not shy away from promoting the “heritage of faith” that is almost absent at present from the airport. It is difficult to imagine the San Antonio airport without cultural nods to the Alamo, Charles de Gaulle without visual references to the Eiffel Tower or Istanbul’s new airport without architectural themes resonant with Islamic elements indicative of the region’s association with its own legacy of faith (and that in a patently secular nation).

At present, the airport celebrates Utah’s stunning national parks, unparalleled winter sports and respectable dining and shopping opportunities, but misses at least some reference to the ethos of settlement with which so many travelers are familiar — and expect — when they visit the airport either as terminal travelers, anxious to explore the area, or connecting passengers eager to understand more about the region during a brief or extended layover. In sum, it is more about reflecting the integrity of place rather than propagating faith, and, as the cultural references cited above suggest, place the region in its integral context.

Thus, the new Salt Lake City International Airport boldly offers the region opportunities on multiple fronts to showcase its position at the vanguard of infrastructure leadership not only in the West, but the United States more broadly, as well as to properly emphasize its historical roots.