A new international terminal for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will cost about $1.5 billion --- twice the original estimate --- by the time passengers begin boarding jets from its 16 gates, probably in the fall of 2011.
Hartsfield-Jackson officials confirmed those numbers late last week during a retreat for the Atlanta City Council, which oversees the world's busiest airport. It was the clearest picture to date on the cost of the long-delayed terminal and its completion date.
"This number has a lot of information behind it," Ben DeCosta, Hartsfield-Jackson's general manager, said after his presentation to council members. "There are things that could push it higher, but this is close."
When first proposed as a concept, the Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal was pegged at about $750 million, but delays, design changes and soaring construction costs have continued to push that figure higher.
DeCosta said earlier this year the terminal could top $1 billion, and an internal briefing obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June indicated the cost could approach $1.5 billion. His briefing to the council, however, was the first public confirmation of that price tag.
The airlines view the new terminal as a vital improvement for Hartsfield-Jackson, which is used by about 86 million passengers a year. The airport is home to Delta Air Lines, which has recently keyed on international routes to boost its bottom line.
But the terminal has run into a litany of problems over the years. First, Delta was forced into bankruptcy, raising questions about whether it was needed. Two years ago, the original design team was fired by DeCosta. Its owners sued the city for $60 million.
A new design team was hired, and Delta emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, clearing the way for the new facility.
Mike Williams, the airport official overseeing the project, said the terminal itself will cost between $847 million and $910 million. Roadways and other infrastructure will add another $450 million. Design, management and legal fees make up the remainder of the costs.
City Councilwoman Clair Muller, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said delays have contributed to much of facility's increased costs.
"Any time you lose as many years as we've lost since the first designer, costs are going to go up," Muller said. "Time is money in big construction projects."
Muller said it might still be possible to trim some costs from the final project through "value engineering."
"But it needs to be an attractive building," she said. "It's the first thing a lot of people see coming into the city."
Another member of the Transportation Committee, Councilwoman Felicia Moore, has questioned the soaring cost of city and airport construction projects. Moore pushed for a just-completed audit of the new off-site rental car facility being constructed near Hartsfield-Jackson, which found delays have added millions to the original cost of that project.
"There are things internally that need to be done in the future to help mitigate the costs on these large projects," Moore said. "If you put out a number, people are going to expect you to come somewhere close to that."
The new terminal, which will be located near the control tower, will replace the current international facility located on Concourse E. The current terminal was constructed for the 1996 Olympics and will be used for domestic flights once the new terminal is operational.
Designers are now completing schematics for the new facility, which will have its own parking garage, ticketing offices and baggage claim. It will be accessed from I-75 and will have curbside passenger pickup.
The lack of curbside pickup means international passengers passing through the current terminal have to recheck their bags once they clear U.S. Customs and then retrieve them in the main terminal.
The overall look and cost of a delayed new international terminal for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport should be known by October, airport General Manager Ben DeCosta says. DeCosta...
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