Ground is Broken for New Terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport
The billion-dollar project is expected to be completed by early 2025, so what will it mean for passengers?
Pittsburgh International Airport’s newest endeavor has officially taken off.
Allegheny County officials held a ground-breaking event Thursday to commemorate the start of construction on its new terminal. Part of the airport’s Terminal Modernization Program, the $1.39 billion project is the first in the country to be built from the ground up since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. First announced in 2017, construction was originally slated to begin last year, but the project was delayed due to the virus.
With work finally underway, the terminal is scheduled to open in 2025 and bring ample economic developments to the region: It’s expected to generate $2.5 billion for the local economy and create around 5,500 local construction and skilled labor jobs, along with 8,500 additional employment opportunities.
With such a massive scale, the 700,000-square-foot terminal is among the largest infrastructure projects in the history of the Pittsburgh region. It will include ticketing, security checkpoints and baggage claim, as well ample natural light and additional green plazas both pre-and post-security; space for added concessions, artwork and other amenities; technological improvements and more automated systems; and an adjacent multi-modal complex with a 3,300-space parking garage, rental car facilities and new access roadways.
Ground hasn’t been broken at the airport since 1987, when with financial backing from USAir, work began on a billion-dollar expansion. But a lot has changed since then.
“Back in 1987, this was really a destination airport because so many of our people were leaving. It is now more of an origination airport, as people are coming here from around the country and around the world,” says County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, addressing a crowd in a large tent across from the construction site. “For the first time in six decades, Allegheny County, by the census, is growing again. That is a big, big deal.”
Fitzgerald also added that the county is more diverse now than ever before and that we need an airport that reflects a changing, modernizing county impacted by this steel region’s renaissance.
So what changes can frequent flyers expect to see?
The new terminal will replace the current landside terminal, which was built in 1992 and will be either repurposed or demolished after work on the new terminal is complete. It will also nix the eight-mile baggage conveyor belt and the train that links the current landside terminal with the airside terminal, which airport officials say is difficult to maintain.
New systems will be designed with efficiency in mind.
It’ll be “a more suitable terminal with lower costs,” says Dave Minnotte, chairman of the Allegheny County Airport Authority board. “You can’t get better than that.”
For example, the time it takes to get from curbside to airside will be reduced by 50%, and the time it takes to get from International Arrivals to curbside will be reduced by 67%. The parking garage will also offer three times the number of current spots, and only one level change from curb to gates will help to both expedite the process and eliminate confusion.
Additionally, bags will need to travel less distance and go through fewer vertical level changes to get from plane to baggage claim, and the new baggage claim devices will be longer, allowing each device to hold more bags at one time. These changes, as well as new systems and technology, will noticeably speed up the baggage delivery process.
The modernization program will also extend the life of the facility by an estimated 40 years, all without using a single taxpayer dollar. The terminal will be funded by revenue from airlines and other facility users, as well as revenue from parking, concessions and other sources, according to the Terminal Modernization Plan’s website. The cost of the program will also be financed through the sale of long-term bonds approved through a use and lease agreement with airlines.
According to Blue Sky News, the airport’s official publication, the terminal is designed to provide high-quality, cost-efficient and flexible facilities for the future, with new public health and safety features that improve the passenger, staff and visitor experience throughout. It will also reduce the escalating maintenance costs of an aging facility and systems and transition to greener, more sustainable methods.
The new facility will further incorporate clean air technology and outdoor terraces to ensure access to fresh air, as well as more space for social distancing as travelers continue to navigate the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, which has had a deep impact on the airport.
“It has been a pandemic,” says Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority. “At times, it was so awful out there, the only aircraft activity we saw was parked on the center runway … we didn’t know how we were going to make it. Everything we had worked for with our terrific airline partners … gone in a matter of two weeks.”
But the groundbreaking ceremony marked the first sight of light at the end of a long tunnel.
“We’re breaking ground on so much more than a building or a complex,” Cassotis says. “We’re really breaking ground on the region’s future. This is meant to be a physical representation of everything that makes this community great.”
As she speaks, an airplane roars overhead.
“That’s the sound we like to hear,” she adds.
Nature and sustainability are heavily emphasized in the infrastructure’s design; the Terminal Modernization Program is among the most sustainable in the industry as officials seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification at the silver level or beyond. It will also be completely powered by the airport’s microgrid, which is comprised of 10,000 solar panels and five natural gas generators fueled by onsite wells, according to Paul Hoback, chief development officer at the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
“During construction, a minimum of 75% of waste generated will be recycled or reused,” he says.
Those materials include concrete that will become some base material from existing airfield ramps that will be reused for new roads. Additional plans include rainwater harvesting and other water conservation efforts.
Cassotis says Pittsburgh International Airport is the first airport in the world to be off the grid, reducing its carbon footprint in these ways.
Terminal and parking facilities will also feature leading-edge technology and highlight innovation in the community. The project will be led by a Pittsburgh family-owned contractor, Mascaro Construction, which built Heinz Field, Dick’s Sporting Goods Headquarters and University of Pittsburgh’s Biomedical Science Tower. Construction will require more than 12,000 tons of steel, 94,000 tons of concrete and more than 354,000 square feet of wood materials, much of which the airport will source locally.
“It has always been a project that is meant to be for and built by Pittsburghers,” Cassotis says. “The people building it are going to be your neighbors and your friends.”