O.C. airport costs exceed budget; Rising energy and labor costs have put the expansion project $135 million over estimates. Taxpayers won't fund the shortfall, however.

When Orange County supervisors voted in 2004 to expand John Wayne Airport to accommodate burgeoning air travel, they had no idea that escalating energy and labor costs would far outpace their allocation.

Those costs hit home Saturday, as airport officials revealed that the price of the airport's improvements has ballooned $135 million dollars over budget.

Originally set to cost about $435 million, the airport's new look will now run $570 million.

"Across the country, we're seeing an increase in oil and raw material prices, as well as the cost of labor," said airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge. "Had fuel costs not gone up, we would have been pretty much right on target with our original estimate."

The mushrooming budget will not derail plans for the Airport Improvement Program, which includes construction of a multi-level terminal building that will make room for six additional passenger gates, six new security checkpoints, greater baggage screening capability, two new parking structures and commuter facilities at the north and south ends of the extended terminal.

"Once we started realizing there would be cost increases across the board, we identified where funding would come from," Wedge said. "A good portion is airport revenue. We have exceeded our estimated air traffic the past few years and we anticipate that will continue, bringing in additional money."

Revenues from kiosks, airport eateries and parking structures will cover most of the added expenses.

The remaining funds will come from FAA bonds and state grants, Wedge said.

Officials are confident the new cost estimate is accurate because they have built into it a larger margin for price increases in fuel and raw materials.

"I was concerned about the underestimation of the cost at first," County Supervisor Chris Norby said Saturday. "We need to get a tighter grip on general estimates. Sometimes we're overly confident in the beginning. It's a lesson that we have to get a more realistic view of costs up front."

The project's most expensive components -- the new terminal and one of two parking structures -- are still on schedule for completion by 2011.

The timeline for the rest of the project, however, has been pushed back to 2014, Wedge said, so that the county can ensure that the funds will be available.

The first hint of money trouble surfaced in February, when officials discovered that a new aircraft parking lot would exceed estimated costs by millions of dollars.

Money for routine airport maintenance also grew, to $80 million, a slight increase from the $75-million estimate. Once separate, the maintenance fund is now included with the expansion plan's costs in the Total Capital Improvement Program, bringing the overall total to about $650 million.

"I think we have a better idea of what the costs will be now," Norby said.

"There will be no burden on the general public, only those who use the airport. I'm satisfied with our progress."

Built in 1990, JWA was designed to accommodate 8.4 million annual passengers. Last year, the airport accommodated more than 9.6 million passengers. The expanded area would allow the airport to accommodate roughly 10.8 million.

The airport is playing an increasing role in air travel in the region, where passenger numbers are expected to double by 2030.

Last year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the region's smaller airports to take on additional domestic flights, leaving LAX to focus on international flights.

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com



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