San Antonio Begins $46M Airport Parking Garage

Despite cost overruns and recent resignations of two key managers, city officials said Wednesday that all is well, so far, with a major expansion of the airport.

They then grabbed shovels and flung dirt to kick off construction of a $46 million parking garage, the first of several expensive projects starting this year at San Antonio International Airport.

The five-story garage will add 2,800 spaces -- 1,600 by Christmas and the rest late next year.

"A major city needs a major airport," Mayor Phil Hardberger said.

And a major airport needs major funding.

Work is also set to begin this year on a $101 million, eight-gate terminal and a $38 million extension of an elevated roadway in front of passenger terminals.

The roadway will open next year, but the terminal, more than a year behind schedule because of negotiations with airlines, might not open until 2015. (SEE CORRECTION)

Add another new terminal, airfield improvements, noise insulation for nearby homes, expansion of Stinson Municipal Airport and other projects through 2015 and the total comes to $653 million, which will be paid by airport users.

It was only a month ago that airport officials were saying the airport expansion would cost $425 million.

But the new figure, presented to the City Council before the groundbreaking, includes more programs and stretches over a longer time period, aviation director Mark Webb said.

Council members didn't ask any questions, but acknowledged past problems.

"It wasn't very long ago that it was looking like it might be more difficult than where we are right now," Councilman Chip Haass said. "So to see that quickly turn around, I find very impressive."

Last year, council members learned they would have to fork over another $914,000 for the first of the two new terminals. More than half the extra costs were for added passenger features, but at least a third were due to miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Then in October, staff told the council that plans for the parking garage and elevated roadway would run 30 percent more, or $23 million, because construction costs were rising faster than expected.

Since then, the garage has been redesigned to share ramps with the existing garage and bring costs to within $500,000 of original estimates.

"There's a bit of sticker shock, but it's going on everywhere," Hardberger said Wednesday.

Since December, longtime assistant aviation director Dom Smith and airport project manager Leslie Heinen have turned in letters of resignation.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who shifted Webb from contract services to the airport shortly after she arrived in November 2005, said Wednesday that there's a new way of doing things at the airport and not everybody likes it.

"We just have to move on," she said.

Also, at Wednesday's council meeting, Webb announced that the staff is asking federal officials to raise passenger fees from $3 per trip to $4.50. The higher charge, which could take effect later this year, would finance bonds without relying as much on rental fees for airlines.