Pierce County: Infrastructure ‘does not exist’ for new airport

Oct 13, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:40 am
Sea-Tac Airport is expected to be overcapacity by 2050, according to studies. This has the region looking at alternative locations for a new airport. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

As evidenced by recent videos of long lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and hundreds of thousands of people excitedly restarting their travel plans after the COVID-19 pandemic, Sea-Tac is getting too crowded and a new airport needs to be built. Just not in Pierce County, officials plead.

County leaders are opposing a proposed new airport at either of the two sites being considered in Pierce County, according to a joint letter sent to aviation officials sent Oct 11.

Would an airport in Pierce County change the area ‘for the worse?’

In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill creating a commission to figure out where to put a new major airport in the Puget Sound region, as Sea-Tac continues to get busier and busier as the facility continues to strain the number of travelers it can accommodate.

Sea-Tac International Airport serves approximately 50 million passengers a year, according to a study from the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). The current facility is on track to exceed its capacity by 2050, with the council expecting demand for take-offs and landings to double by that time.

The commission set up by Gov. Inslee, despite being delayed by the pandemic, has since put together three locations they recommend for a new airport to take some of the burdens off of Sea-Tac.

There are three options being considered for construction: “Pierce County East” located south of Graham that includes state route 161; “Pierce County Central” located south of South Creek which includes state routes 702 and 7; and “Thurston County Central” located southeast of East Olympia.

The commission expects to narrow its recommendations to a single location by June 2023, but the six Pierce County council members signed the letter to the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission Chair. The main reasons for their opposition to the new airports are the lack of infrastructure in the area to support the airport and the environmental impact of building the new airport.

“Both greenfield sites are in the rural area, approximately five miles outside Pierce County’s Urban Growth Area, and do not have the infrastructure capable of supporting an airport … The transportation, sewer, and water infrastructure necessary to support the contemplated airport simply does not exist and there are no plans to provide this infrastructure in the future,” according to the letter.

The two Pierce County sites also sit on top of the Central Pierce County Aquifer, the letter cites, which is a major source of drinking water for many that live in the community. The new airport could generate pollutants that may contaminate that water, the letter claims.

The last option remaining is in Thurston County.

Currently, Sea-Tac is undergoing an expansion of its C Concourse, which is expected to start in 2023, to add four new floors to the existing building and accommodate increased traffic.

The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission is currently accepting public feedback on its website. They are expected to provide additional analysis of the three greenfield sites by Saturday, Oct. 15.

The commission is expected to narrow its recommendations down to two options by the end of the month as they work to pick a location for a new airport by spring 2023.

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Pierce County: Infrastructure ‘does not exist’ for new airport