With the recent heavy holiday travel volumes, it’s easy to think about the need for sufficient airport capacity. But the reality is that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s ability to meet the needs of the growing Puget Sound region should concern us every day of the year.
The airport generates 170,000 jobs and more than $16.3 billion in economic activity, and enables many other businesses driving our local and state economies.
This huge impact will only increase with passenger counts projected to climb from today’s 42.3 million to 66 million by 2034. Over that same time, cargo volumes are expected to double from today’s 332,000 metric tons.
Sea-Tac has a small footprint for a major airport hub. At 2,700 acres, it has less than 10 percent of the property that Denver International has available. Spokane, serving less than 10 percent the number of passengers as Sea-Tac, has more than double Sea-Tac’s acreage.
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Careful planning will be required to maximize use of Sea-Tac’s available space, as it adds 35 gates to the existing 88 over the next two decades.
The development of a sustainable airport master plan is already underway. It’s a complex project that must balance airport demand, passenger facilities and services, capital costs, operating efficiency, airline operating requirements, cargo growth, community impacts and environmental sustainability.
Some of the issues addressed in the master plan will include: surface traffic and multi-modal connections to make getting to and through the airport more convenient; gate and terminal configurations to move passengers more efficiently on-site; cargo facility upgrades to handle increasing volumes of e-commerce, freight imports and exports; airfield enhancements; energy and water conservation, recycling and environmental sustainability; and engagement with surrounding communities.
Port of Seattle commissioners will make the decisions about Sea-Tac’s future in keeping with our region’s shared priorities: not just economic growth, but also environmental sustainability, while creating opportunities for diverse segments of our community and showing a sensitivity to the region’s history and culture.
Just as the creation of the Northwest Seaport Alliance between the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma recognized our shared destiny in international maritime trade, we must also recognize that Tacoma has a very real interest in decisions about the future of the airport.
We have a lot going in our favor. Technology, agriculture, trade, hospitality, e-commerce, construction and other sectors of the local economy remain strong. Sea-Tac is already extremely successful: Alaska Airlines has flourished, Delta Airlines has made it a major hub, and other airlines have announced plans to begin or expand operations here.
Sea-Tac management has a proven track record as stewards of this critical public resource. Important projects are already underway, including development of a new International Arrivals Facility and renovation and expansion of the North Satellite terminal.
While the necessary investments are significant, Sea-Tac doesn’t rely on property or other general tax funding. It is self-sustaining through airline gate fees, passenger facility charges, cargo fees, parking revenues and rental income from terminal vendors.
We should always remember what the “Tac” in Sea-Tac stands for. It’s vital for Tacoma’s future.
Andrea Riniker is a former manager of the Washington State Department of Ecology, Sea-Tac Airport and the Port of Tacoma. Mark Martinez is the executive secretary of the Pierce County Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. For more information on the future of Sea-Tac, visit tomorrowatsea-tac.com.