CHOKEPOINTS

Sullivan: Airport expansion in high gear as summer travel approaches

May 9, 2024, 6:24 AM | Updated: 9:11 am

airport expansion...

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's $79 million project to widen the road into the terminal. (Photo: Chris Sullivan, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Chris Sullivan, KIRO Newsradio)

“Think opposite” is the go-to move when heading to the airport, but a massive construction project is underway that might make that less necessary.

“Think opposite” is really the best option for getting through the upper and lower drives at the airport terminal. When picking someone up, head to the departures deck. When dropping off, use the arrivals deck. Going counter to the flow usually gets you through a lot faster.

But if you’ve been to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) recently — like I was yesterday — you’ve likely noticed all the construction on the upper and lower drives just before the terminal. Workers are digging out the west sides of both approaches and installing two new retaining walls, all part of a $79 million project to widen the road into the terminal.

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The airport is also adding two lanes to the incoming drive, widening it from four lanes to six lanes.

“We’re going to have two dedicated lanes just into the lower drive, and we’ll have one lane that’ll be for all those courtesy shuttles that will go into the third floor of the garage,” Perry Cooper, senior manager of media relations for the Port of Seattle, told KIRO Newsradio. “We’ll have another lane that will be added on the far outside that will go straight into the airport garage.”

It’s all about reducing congestion at the terminal. Two dedicated lanes to the top deck. Two dedicated lanes to the bottom deck. A lane just for the third-floor ground transportation and one just for garage parking.

The project also includes a new pull-out area for the car rental shuttles, just before the garage. That’s where passengers will load and unload.

“That’s going to be where the rental car facility buses will park, pick you up and take you out to the rental car facility,” Cooper said. “We take those large buses off the driveway on the lower drive and make it more available for regular cars.”

There is already a matching pull-out on the south end of the garage.

“It will hopefully reduce the congestion that we especially see at night from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. evening flights,” Cooper said. “Everybody’s trying to get to that lower drive,” he said.

The off-site parking shuttles will now go to the third floor of the garage with all the other ground transportation.

For airport managers, this is all about squeezing new capacity out of the tiny footprint. Moving the roads a few feet to the west was really the only option for widening the road.

“We got the light rail right there on the east side so how do you add a lane when they got the light rail right there,” Cooper asked. “There’s no space so the only way we can do it is by shoving or creating a new retaining wall space to the west.”

It’s the same mantra for expanding the airport inside the terminal. There is no space to build out. This is not Denver, where the airport has almost unlimited land.

You have likely noticed all the ongoing work near the Alaska Airlines check-in and all the work between the upper and lower floors. The airport is adding check-in services in those in-between spaces.

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And it’s hard to miss the giant crane above the C Concourse.

“You typically don’t see things that tall in the middle of an airfield because you’ve got things flying by,” Cooper said.

The airport is adding four new floors to the concourse, nearly tripling the square footage. Going up is really the only way to expand.

This is all a part of $5 billion in improvements that will continue through 2026.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.

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Sullivan: Airport expansion in high gear as summer travel approaches