Port of Seattle moves forward on nearly $1 billion in Sea-Tac Airport improvements

Since the completion of Sea-Tac’s rental car terminal in 2012, the airport and its customers have enjoyed a rare respite from the major expansion and remodeling that seem to be a way of life at busy airports.

Don’t expect that quiet period to last much longer. The Port of Seattle Commission on Tuesday took positive action on a handful of proposals Tuesday that could ultimately result in close to $1 billion in new construction and rebuilding activity at the airport lasting until the end of this decade.

Those construction projects will result in creation of a new international arrivals complex, the building of a bridge between the South Satellite Terminal and the international facility, the remodeling and updating of the South Satellite, the expansion and renovation of the airport’s North Satellite Terminal, the reconstruction of the airport’s center runway, the reinforcement of the tunnel beneath the airport’s arrival drive and the electrical updating of the Main Terminal.

The projects’ costs will be paid by the airport’s airline tenants.

The most significant activity will be centered on the two airport satellite terminals north and south of the main terminal that have not seen significant updating and remodeling since they were opened in 1971 and 1973.

Those two satellite facilities are the Sea-Tac homes for two airlines battling for supremacy at the airport, hometown Alaska Airlines and Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines. Alaska enjoys more than 50 percent of the market share at Sea-Tac. Delta is building Sea-Tac into its West Coast international hub while adding dozens of domestic flights to feed those international nonstops.

Alaska and the port are redesigning and expanding the airport’s North Satellite Terminal to become the signature axis of Alaska’s airline network. That terminal along with the airport’s C Concourse will ultimately serve Alaska flights.

The port’s “Northstar Project” would reconfigure and expand the gates at the North Satellite to create a total of 20 gates, up from the current 12.

The port commission at its Tuesday meeting authorized the expansion of the terminal to the northwest adding five gates. That $191 million addition raises the price of the total Northstar Project to an estimated $406 million.

The terminal will continue to operate during the expansion and remodeling project. Construction on the terminal could begin in the fall of 2015 with completion in the summer of 2019.

The project will create additional escalator and elevator access from the airport subway to the terminal, change the layout and aesthetics of the terminal to meet 21st century standards and create a new clubroom for Alaska’s frequent fliers. The port and Alaska are also studying whether to create gates to allow Alaska’s planes to load and unload from both the front and rear doors.

At the airport’s opposite end, the port plans to spend more than $5 million for a quick update of the South Satellite Terminal’s interior. That renovation includes new carpets, new airline gate podiums, new water fountains, updated signage and a repainted interior to give the terminal an updated and unified appearance.

The larger project at the South Satellite, whose major occupant is Delta, will be to build a new international arrivals facility south and east of the present A Concourse. A new overhead bridge will allow arriving international passengers to move from the South Satellite to the new arrival facility for customs and immigration clearance.

That new facility is necessary because of the proliferation of international flights at Sea-Tac. Many of those flights now arrive during a tight window just before and after noon, overcrowding the present arrival facilities built in the early 1970s.

In recent years Delta and foreign airlines have added flights from Sea-Tac to Frankfurt, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Iceland in Europe, to Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul in Asia and to Dubai in the Middle East.

The new international arrivals facility will allow international passengers to arrive at South Satellite gates as they do now, but also at gates in the A Concourse.

Design work on that project is just beginning and the final prices for the international facility aren’t nailed down. Preliminary cost estimates say the facility will cost $316 million, but port executives expect the final estimates could escalate by up to $100 million, bringing facility construction cost to more than $400 million. Construction could begin in the third quarter of 2015 with completion in the last quarter of 2018.

When the international facility is done, the port likely will embark on a more substantial renovation of the South Satellite.

While intensive planning is moving forward on the North and South satellite facilities, the port also is embarking on major maintenance projects. The commission Tuesday authorized further work to replace 28 deteriorated concrete panels in the airport’s center runway and near the North Satellite. Those patchwork replacements have been going on for two years. That work will cost $969,000.

Those repairs will buy the port time before it has to replace that runway completely. The port plans to shut down the center runway in 2016, dig out the existing pavement and replace it. The airport’s other two runways are relatively new.

Meanwhile, the commission also approved a $27.9 million project that will shore up supports beneath the airport’s arrival drive to meet earthquake standards. Those supports surround a below-ground service road that allows commercial vehicle access to the airport’s underbelly.

Another update project receiving the commission’s approval was a $20.7 million project to update the low voltage electricity distribution system in the Main Terminal, which hasn’t been updated in some parts of the terminal for decades.