In our opinion: Airport expansion reflects the growing vitality of Utah's national and global links

Deseret News editorial

Published: Fri, July 25, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 Rendering of the $1.8 billion terminal redevelopment project of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Rendering of the $1.8 billion terminal redevelopment project of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

(Provided by Salt Lake City International Airport)

The forthcoming expansion of the Salt Lake International Airport, one of the largest public works projects in Utah history, will have a sizable impact on the efficiency of domestic and international air travel. It will also elevate the stature of the community it serves in a way that will pay dividends for decades to come.

The dimensions of the project are impressive. At $1.8 billion, the cost is comparable to that of the giant rebuilding of I-15 through the Salt Lake Valley, which cost $1.5 billion in 2001 dollars. It will cost more than the sprawling National Security Agency complex in Bluffdale, and carries a price tag slightly higher than the total amount of money the state spends annually on all transportation construction and operations.

It will be paid for with revenue from fees and taxes associated with travel and not require any new levies on Utah citizens. The expansion will contribute more than $3.3 billion to the state’s economy and employ 24,000 people during the eight-year construction period. The effect on the airport itself will be transformative.

It’s important to note that Salt Lake International is already one of the country’s best airports. It ranks 94th among the world’s top 100 airports, and is one of only 15 American airports on that list. It is currently ranked as the most efficient airport in the U.S. as measured by the percentage of on-time arrivals and departures. It is the 21st busiest airport in the country, even though the Salt Lake metropolitan area ranks 35 in population.

The new airport will be even busier, more efficient and in terms of aesthetics, a sleeker, grander and more welcoming threshold for the millions of visitors who pass through its gates. For many, it will deliver their first impression of Utah, and architectural plans suggest that impression will be a good one. The terminals will have glass walls that offer floor-to-ceiling views of the Wasatch range and will incorporate design elements planners say are intended to convey a “sense of place.”

The logistics of rebuilding an airport while keeping it fully operational means there will be some level of disruption. Planners promise it will be minimal, and in any case, the end result should justify temporary inconveniences.

In an increasingly interconnected world, an airport is among the most important components of a city’s infrastructure. Aside from serving the utilitarian purposes of air travel, the new Salt Lake Airport will also serve as a proper reflection of the area’s growing cultural and economic vitality.

1. aceroinox
Farmington, UT,
July 25, 2014

As nice as it is to have something new and shiny, the $1.8 billion is not free money. It comes from federal grants (which last I checked come from our taxes) and user fees. Which population uses the SLC airport more than any other? Utahns!

Yes, you can argue the grant funding is spread across all US taxpayers, but that ignores the fact that Utah taxpayers are also participating in the funding for grants all across the country...these grants add up! During a period when the federal deficit is ballooning out of control, it's hard to celebrate our new airport because it's going to better accommodate those greeting arriving passengers and enable grand views of the surrounding mountains (which are easily viewed during landing and takeoff, unless it's overcast, in which case they wouldn't be seen from the terminal, either).

It is very difficult to complain about budget deficits when we are all too eager to stick our hand out for federal largesse when it benefits us. It is time to bite the bullet and live a bit smaller!

2. high school fan
Huntington, UT,
July 25, 2014

The grants do not come from the taxpayer but from the fund that all aviation users pay into to cover exactly things like this. This is a dedicated fund with dedicated uses.
This is a great move since so much of the salt lake airport is old.

3. mufasta
American Fork, UT,
July 25, 2014

That airport expansion somehow relates to the vitality of the state is a terrible logical jump. The reason the airport is expanding is because they maintain a special dispensation budget that requires that they use it or lose it. If they do not spend their money, the are required to give it back to the state. That is why they are always performing some useless construction at the airport. Lets be honest in our reporting.

4. Tyler McArthur
South Jordan, UT,
July 25, 2014

Wow, lots of negative comments... I think this is great! And with no new/increased taxes. I love the fact that I'm from Utah, with the best state government in the country.

5. 1conservative
July 25, 2014

There's no such thing as "free money".

I would have been interested to see what would have happened if the airport authority would have done an (unbiased)poll of air travelers (the ones who actually are forced to pay the additional tax)how they felt about the issue.

Utah politicians are at least as good at spending other peoples money as bureaucrats in D.C. They dream up all kinds of "nice" stuff (freeways, taj mahal police buildings, rail lines, etc)and don't have much problem at all in committing large amounts of YOUR tax dollars to pay for their dreams.

Of course, then they hire the best spinmeisters they can to make it look like we're not really paying anything at all!