CHOKEPOINTS

Sea-Tac getting creative in finding room to grow for $4.5B expansion

Oct 3, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: 10:50 am

Sea-Tac expansion...

(Photo from Chris Sullivan)

(Photo from Chris Sullivan)

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is bursting at the seams, any recent visit will tell you that. What is the plan to handle the growth, which is expected to continue?

More than 15 million passengers went through SEA between June and August, just one percent below 2019 levels. The single busiest day at the airport was set for this summer. We can probably blame Taylor Swift for that, it was the day after her second Seattle show.

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The issue is simple: SEA continues to see growth, and another 3% over 2019 levels is expected next year, but there is really no room to grow. The footprint is only 2,500 acres. Chicago’s O’Hare is three times the size.

“Because we’ve got this restricted small footprint, we can’t expand out, so we’ve been trying to think of how can we go up,” SEA Spokesperson Perry Cooper said.

And going up is what SEA is doing on the C-Concourse. The Port of Seattle just approved $339 million to build four new stories above the C-Concourse.

“It’s going to include more dining and retail, and it’s going to include more seating space,” Cooper said. “It’s going to include some lounge space, and then what’s really cool is we’re going to have a space where people can actually go outside and view the airfield if you want to plane spot for a while.”

That C-Concourse expansion is part of $4.5 billion improvements through 2027. If you’ve been to the airport recently, you have probably noticed all the on-going construction for the project.

“The upgrading of the Alaska ticketing area in the north end of our main terminal, that’s a big one,” Cooper said. “We’ve put bollards in for safety improvements on the upper and lower drive.  We’re doing a new checkpoint one on the far south end.”

If you go to the plaza at the south end, by the international terminal, baggage claim 1 is behind construction barriers. It’s gone. A new TSA checkpoint will go in there. It’s all about finding space inside the existing footprint to handle the growth.

And it is with that idea in mind that the next phase of construction is already in the works. The Sustainable Airport Master Plan is in environmental review, and if approved, it would make significant changes to the airport, especially on the north end.

“It would include a new North Terminal, basically in the lot where our Doug Fox parking is right now,  and then that would expand across to the west with 19 new gates,” Cooper said.

That new terminal would be north of the cell phone lot in that Doug Fox lot. There would be a walkway over the expressway to the airfield where the planes would be located.   The expressway might have to be moved to accommodate it, and a bunch of facilities would have to be moved.

“We would actually have to take out a bunch of facilities there, from our warehouses to our maintenance folks, and it will impact our fire department,” Cooper said. “Those would have to be moved first before we can build those out.”

Once the environmental review is done, the plans will go out for public comment before the Port of Seattle makes final decisions.

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Sea-Tac getting creative in finding room to grow for $4.5B expansion