LAS VEGAS — “Welcome to the tour,” says Randy Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, handing me a hardhat and safety vest. We are joined by Samuel G. Ingalls, assistant director of aviation/information systems, among others. The tour: The 90 percent complete Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport.
Terminal 3 is set to open in mid-2012, with 14 gates, at a cost of some $2.4 billion — the largest component of the system’s capital improvement plan. It includes a double-deck roadway system — avoiding the passenger/vehicle interface that is the norm at the main terminal — and a 6,000-space parking garage with a waiting lot to keep pickups away from the terminal.
T3 will handle all of McCarran’s international traffic at six segregated gates, and will link across the airfield to the D Gates at the main terminal by way of an underground tram. That capability is expected to “greatly ease congestion throughout McCarran”. Some baggage claim and passenger processing for the D Gates will now take place in T3.
Explains Walker, “The official name of new facility is Terminal 3. We’re going to tear Terminal 2 down. If we grow and NextGen gets us more capacity we may actually have to go back and build something where Terminal 2 is.”
The roadway system and adjacent garage are already complete. It includes a tunnel to divert taxi traffic, and over-the-road way bridges from the garage to the terminal.
“Back in the late ‘70s when they designed our main terminal, they were bold but not quite bold enough,” relates Walker. “They didn’t do a stacked roadway system, which is a challenge for us today. This has the stacked roadway system with the departures on the top and arrivals on the bottom.”
When the economic collapse of 2008 occurred, the county faced a tough choice. Las Vegas was one of the communities hit the hardest, locally and with a drop in tourism. Officials decided to press on, and the T3 project has remained on schedule.
Regarding how the airport approached creation of the new terminal, Walker says, “We tried to think this through very carefully in terms of the flexibility; the whole common use concept; the flow of the building; the access to the D gates; the whole roadway system. We spent a lot of time thinking it out before going to design.
“The way we usually do things is, we hire a planning company to come in and help us plan it. Then we get a planning document that we all agree with regarding how the facility is going to work functionally. Once we approve that we turn it over to the architect that we hired, and that’s the program that they are to design to.
“We don’t have the architect do the actual designing work; we have a planner who works with our staff and that’s we assign the architect to design.
“It’s worked well for us, separating it into two separate steps – complete planning and then design.”
Step inside T3 and one finds dynamic wayfinding from Daktronics, an air of openness, of modernity. (Slot machines have yet to be installed.) It is a Wi-Fi-enabled facility. Explains Ingalls, “One of the things you don’t see is we have Wi-Fi built in everywhere inside the terminal and for operational use out on the ramp; for baggage scanning on the ramp; for maintenance folks with their laptops or wireless PDAs. The other thing we built into the building throughout is a distributed antenna system for all the cellular phone data.
“Something that I think airports are really behind on is the amount of power they provide. So, our power is distributed through the furniture here for customers.”
Adds Walker, “We’re going to put six or so circular recharge stations with chairs. And we’ll get sponsors for them. In the other terminal Verizon actually sponsors them. It has turned into a money generator for us. We provide it as a customer service and people love it. And we generate revenue from it.”
Dynamic signage at the common use check-in, at the gates, and throughout the terminal allows for constant communication with passengers. Its modular design affords flexibility — airlines can be moved around with no infrastructure disruption.
“If we’re going to relocate people we have to able to move the signage,” says Walker. “So we can line the signage up with wherever the ticket counter is. It looks solid, but you can take any of the panels out and move the screens anywhere along that line. If we want to add another ticket counter we can just put another sign up behind it. Of if we move a counter we can move the sign with it, so the signs always line up with the ticket counters.
“So it’s 100 percent modular. We can move anything around.”
Says Ingalls, “One of the other criticisms of common use is a lack of gate information display systems. We built right into this facility that as long an air carrier in a common use environment can feed us information, we’ll display it just as they do at their own gates. If they design to the common use standard, then they can display anything here.”
There are some 1,000 cameras throughout of terminal. As with the lobby area, checkpoints are modular and able to be reconfigured without impacting operations. Says Walker, “All the signage will be dynamic; we can open and close lanes. We’ve got our video monitors so we can put the world famous Las Vegas passenger education at the checkpoint.
“As with check-in, whenever TSA comes up with new equipment we can be very flexible and be able to accommodate it.
“We built two checkpoints; there is one downstairs. When we first open the building we’ll probably just use one. We’re going to occupy all 14 gates here, and then have eight gates worth of traffic coming over from the D gates. But we’ve really sized it so we can bring over 24 gates from D. So if we ever get to our peak, in the peak times one checkpoint won’t suffice.
“We’ve tried to make it as flexible as possible for the TSA, to have the ability to open and close checkpoints to allocate manpower.”
The airport is also working with TSA to eliminate the need for security personnel monitoring the exit lane. Explains Walker, “We’re working with TSA to put an automated system in so you don’t have to man the exit lane. They’ll have to test it when we put it in, but conceptually they’ve approved it. On top of that, we’re putting in an anti-back flow system in. So if you come the way you’re not supposed to, alarms go off; and if you continue, glass doors close and seal it off so you can’t go any further.”
All international traffic will move to Terminal 3 when it opens. Six gates will accommodate passengers; however, flexibility in design allows for different configurations — if more handling is needed for domestic traffic during international downtimes, it’s available.
Explains Walker, “The way we designed the international side is not typical; there will be swing gates where you can use them as domestic or international. If it’s international, the corridor will be sealed off. Every two gates have an escalator or elevator to take you down the sterile corridor to Customs. If it’s a domestic flight, the doors open while others are sealed off and it ushers you to the domestic side.
“We tried to work it so we can accommodate all of our international, but when they’re not being used and we need them we can.”
T3 will feature 22 counters for passport clearance, and boost international handling capabilities from the current 800 passengers per hour to 2,000 per hour. There are five baggage claim carousels, three of which will always be dedicated for international traffic.
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