More than half a billion dollars in construction projects are under way at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, nearly half of it a massive rental car center billed as the largest building in Arizona under one roof.
And the hammering, sawing and earth moving situation may not change much in the immediate future, said Phoenix aviation director David Krietor. He said the airport’s annual construction budget is likely to remain in the $200 million-$500 million range for the next several years.
"Yes, this will be a construction site where planes take off and land," he said during a media tour of the building sites Wednesday.
Krietor said the projects are necessary to accommodate the growing number of passengers using the airport. Following a dip in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, passenger growth has resumed at the pace of about 2 million added passengers each year, he said.
"Before we know it we are going to hit the 50 million passenger number (per year), and we need to go like crazy to get this airport ready to handle that number of people," he said.
The biggest project is the $270 million rental car center, where the eight car rental agencies serving the airport will be housed in one 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 at Buckeye Road and south 16th Street. 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 of the rental car operations in one building is expected to reduce congestion on ro ad ways 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.
Long-term plans call for a people-mover system to connect the terminals with the rental car center, but the timing is indefinite.
Another high profile project is the $80 million traffic control tower, which is rising between Terminals 3 and 4. The new tower will be 320 feet tall, the equivalent of about a 30-story building, and will 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.
Also under way is a revamping of the restaurants and shops inside Terminal 4. That project combined with the streamlined baggage screening system is creating "a nicer front door to the state of Arizona," Krietor said