Streamlining The Process
Bush Intercontinental undergoes a $3.1 billion capacity enhancement with relative ease
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
HOUSTON — Officials at this city’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) have combined some good fortune with a favorable business climate, good ideas, and canny leadership to do what many airports can only dream about: Get a massive capacity enhancement project streamlined and under construction in less than two years.
the end of 1998, Houston Airport System (HAS) Director Richard Vacar,
A.A.E., and his staff started work on getting the necessary approvals,
particularly of their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), for launching
an ambitious $3.6 billion construction project at the System’s three
airports — Bush, Hobby, and Ellington. Intercontin-ental was the
centerpiece and would account for $3.1 billion of the expenditures. IAH
was also the focal point of the EIS.
Twenty-one months later, Sept. 8, 2000, the FAA formally approved the project with a Record of Decision (ROD). Construction was delayed a couple of months while the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the project and signed off on it, but at the beginning of 2001 ground was broken and the work was underway.
"The FAA, in some respects," Vacar says, "didn’t know how to act because most of the EISs they’ve done around the country have been real problematical and real vitriolic and everything else. Ours wasn’t like that at all.
"Because we had the support of the environmental community, we were able to get the various agencies — Texas Parks and Wildlife, TNRCC (Texas Natural Resources Conserva-tion Commission), EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife — to come together on how we were going to mitigate the impacts here and get agreements on all
A MULTITUDE OF TASKS
All of the work — some 36 different projects — at IAH is expected to be finished by mid-2004 but the vast majority (most notably, two runways) will be finished by summer of 2003. In the current fiscal year alone, there is $700 million worth of construction being done.
The work includes new construction of an 8,500-foot third parallel runway, an additional international terminal, a 600,000-square-foot air cargo facility with accommodation for 20 wide-body aircraft; a consolidated car rental facility; new and expanded garages; and, taxiways and a taxiway bridge. In addition, there is the widening and lengthening of a former GA runway from 6,000 feet to 12,000 feet; renovation and reconstruction of four terminals; expansion of aprons; and reconstruction of many landside roads and airport accesses.
While the speed of the EIS approval had aviation observers agog in admiration, the speed with which the construction is moving is, if not unprecedented, at least unusual, particularly with the airport in full operation. And, most important parts of the project are going on simultaneously.
"At the end of the day," Vacar says, "you have to know what your objectives are, know what it takes to get there, and put the various resources in position to get it there. Then you try to keep it on track. So far, I think we’re doing well that way.
"The operational aspects of this kind of disruption just takes a lot of people just sitting down and looking at it and I really credit my operational group — the airport manager, the operational managers — for being able to figure it out and pull this together."
The Houston Airport System is nearing completion on a Bush Intercontinental Airport Master plan, which details airport expansion plans through 2025.
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