PHOENIX (AP) -- More than $500 million in construction projects are under way at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to accommodate a growing number of passengers.
The biggest project is a $270 million rental car center, where the eight car rental agencies serving the airport will be housed in a 120,000-square-foot customer service building. A 2.5 million-squarefoot parking garage, equivalent in size to 50 football fields, will be attached to provide 5,600 spaces for cars ready for customer to drive.
Each car rental company will have their own escalators, elevators and vehicle ramps for customers, and no one will have to walk more than 300 feet to reach their vehicles, said Tamie Fisher, project manager for the Phoenix Aviation Department.
A fleet of 62 natural-gas fueled buses will shuttle passengers from the three terminals to the car rental center. They will replace 120 buses currently operated by the individual car rental companies to transport their customers to separate rental lots around the airport, Fisher said.
Consolidating all rental car operations in one building is expected to reduce congestion on roadways around the airport and free up property used for rental parking for other developments. Also 1,600 spaces used for parking rental cars in the terminal garages will be freed for public parking.
Another high profile project is an $80 million traffic control tower. It will stand 320 feet tall, the equivalent of about a 30-story building, and replace the existing 181-foot tall tower built in the 1970s, which will be dismantled.
The new tower will provide a higher platform for controllers to survey the airport grounds as they direct planes around the taxiways, said Warren Meehan, Phoenix air traffic hub manager for the Federal Aviation Administration.
''The airport footprint has changed, and the controllers need to see all areas on the surface,'' he said.
Also part of the $80 million project is a new Terminal Radar Approach Control center being built at the base of the new tower, which will control airplanes up to 40 miles out from Sky Harbor. It will replace a 1960s vintage TRACON control center, he said.
The tower is expected to be completed early next year, and it will take another year to install and test the state-ofthe-art equipment.
Another major project is the revamping of Terminal 4 security checkpoints and baggage screening, which will improve crowding handling. The $122 million improvement will allow passengers to check their luggage at the ticket counters, and it will be screened behind the scenes, eliminating the need for passengers to carry the baggage themselves to screening machines.
A massive concrete column looms above the terminals at Sky Harbor International Airport, giving passengers an idea of the huge scale of the airport's future control tower now under construction.
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