File: Costs soar, terminal shrinks; Critic suggests $1.5 billion is 'a lot of money for a much smaller, inferior' international facility. Hartsfield-Jackson official says data not final.

The proposed new international terminal for Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport appears to be getting smaller and much more expensive.

An internal briefing obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the proposed Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal could eventually cost $1.5 billion --- twice the initial price tag --- while being designed 400,000-square-feet smaller than originally proposed.

Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta dismissed as premature the numbers, which the newspaper obtained in a printed copy of the briefing as part of a request under the Georgia Open Records Act.

"All the numbers you have in that presentation are not worth the paper they are written on because they are preliminary," he said. "It's a presentation to me on a work in progress. It's not final by any means."

A new international terminal has been discussed since the late 1990s and in that time, construction costs have soared, as have costs associated with post-911 airport security. DeCosta declined to discuss specific increased costs associated with the proposed terminal.

The numbers, presented to DeCosta in a closed-door briefing last month, point to an ongoing and thorny problem for airport officials --- the rising cost of a badly needed new terminal to handle Hartsfield-Jackson's growing international passenger load.

DeCosta two years ago fired the original design team for the new terminal because he said their plans would bust the proposed $700 million budget. That team has sued the city, which runs the airport, for $60 million.

An attorney for the former design team, Chip Ingraham, said he found the new numbers "shocking."

"It's a lot of money for a much smaller, inferior terminal that will not even be open for four years," Ingraham said. He said the terminal proposed by his design team would have been bigger, less expensive and would have opened next year.

The airport hired a new design team to come up with another plan, which is now under way. The new terminal could be open by 2011 and would have its own entrance, ticketing area, baggage claim and parking facilities.

The current international terminal was built more than a decade back for the 1996 Olympics. It does not have roadside passenger access, forcing arriving passengers to recheck their bags after they clear the Customs desk.

A new international terminal would eliminate that headache and would add 10 to 14 gates, most of which could handle wide-bodied jets.

DeCosta's staff briefed him last month on the new effort and revealed the total construction costs for the new terminal, its parking facilities and roadways could total nearly $1.2 billion. Add in other fees and associated costs and the total costs jumps to $1.5 billion.

Dan Viscardi, who is in charge of the new terminal design for Gresham, Smith and Partners, declined comment. He referred all questions to Hartsfield-Jackson officials.

DeCosta said any numbers now being discussed are purely conceptual.

"If the mayor asked me what's it going to cost, I'd say, 'I don't know,' " he said. "We're going to build something that makes sense, that serves this region for the next generation."

He said Hartsfield-Jackson officials will not have a good handle on the cost of the new facility until they have a final design, probably in "two or three months."

Delta Air Lines, the airport's biggest customer, is paying close attention to plans for the new terminal. Delta officials, however, declined comment on the new cost estimates.

"Delta has fully supported a new international terminal and continues to, as it logically fits with our strategy to expand international choices for customers," said Delta spokesman Kent Landers.

The airline, which emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, has added 60 international routes systemwide in a year or so, Landers said. And since 2005, it has added 33 international routes from Hartsfield-Jackson. The airline currently is trying to secure a China route, which would begin next year.

Landers said that two years ago about 20 percent of Delta's total revenues came from international routes. Today that number is approaching 40 percent, he said.

"International growth is good for Atlanta and so is continuing to accommodate that growth," he said.

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