By Christopher Smart, The Salt Lake Tribune -- After two decades of planning, Salt Lake City will begin today building the airport of tomorrow.

The $1.8 billion project will boast a brand-new terminal and, officials say, transform Salt Lake City International into one of the nation’s most efficient airports.
One of the construction tricks will be keeping the existing airport running — with all those jets landing and taking off and millions of passengers arriving and departing — while a new airport takes shape around it.

"The logistics of operating an airport while building a new one around it will be a challenge," acknowledged Maureen Riley, executive director of Salt Lake City’s Department of Airports. "It’s staggeringly complex."

When completed in 2022, the airport will have one terminal rather than the three it now has. It’s length will be the equivalent of six Salt Lake City blocks.

The planned airport will have fewer gates — 72 compared to the present 86 — but will be capable of handling more passengers and aircraft, Riley said. About 30 of the present gates are dedicated to smaller, commuter aircraft.

The existing airport was built to handle 10 million passengers annually. It now sees twice that many, Riley explained. The new design has anticipated growth decades into the future — estimated at 23 million to 24 million passengers a year by 2024 and up to 30 million by 2034.

"One of the key design functions is to remain flexible," she said. "We are building in phases."

The long-range master plan allows for an additional concourse to the north, she said. No decision has been made on when that will be built.

About half the new terminal will be operational by spring 2019, according to project manager Mike Williams. The entire terminal will open by summer 2022.

Fast facts about the airport makeover

Price tag » $1.8 billion

Funding » passenger user fees, car-rental fees and federal grants

Capacity » Up to 30 million passengers a year

Terminals » 1

Gates » 72

Efficiencies » Estimated 25 percent to 30 percent less energy use

Completion » Summer 2022