An airport official on Thursday outlined a new $1.2 billion plan for redeveloping the international terminal at Bush Intercontinental Airport, and it’s a dramatically different approach from the proposal detailed nearly three years ago.
The new plan is to, essentially, combine Terminals D and E by 2024. All of the ticketing counters, security lanes and baggage claims will be consolidated and moved to Terminal E. Then there will be two concourses — one in the current Terminal D and one in the current Terminal E — where passengers will board their planes, grab food or relax in an airport lounge.
The previous plan sought to tear down and rebuild Terminal D. Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz detailed the differences, new timeline and budget on Thursday during a meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee.
“When we got to the schematic design stage … some pieces popped up that didn’t make sense,” he told the Chronicle after the presentation.
The original plan, he said, wouldn’t have had enough space for baggage belts and wouldn’t rectify already long lines at curbside pickup for international arrivals, problems that would only worsen as international travelers continue to climb.
When airport officials started looking at solving those problems, they turned to the layout of Terminals A, B and C. All of these have one central area for ticketing, security and baggage claim, and then concourses for planes.
The new plan will demolish a parking garage to build a new ticketing area in Terminal E. The loss in parking spaces will be offset by adding two additional levels to the Terminal C garage.
The Airport System will also demolish the old Terminal C North — United Airlines already built a new Terminal C North to accommodate the airport’s expansion plan — to make way for six wide-body gates that can accommodate the largest planes calling on Houston.
“The Houston Airport System (HAS) has been an excellent partner to us, and we look forward to the redevelopment plans they have in place for the new international terminal,” United said in a statement.
Diaz is optimistic that demolition could start a year from now, with construction following that.
Council members were largely supportive on Thursday, with Dwight Boykins praising Diaz for having “taken our airport to another level.”
Yet, the redevelopment project has had its controversy.
A series of contracts was first brought to City Council in late 2015, but a vote was delayed by then-city controller Ronald Green. His successor, Chris Brown, would later cite potential violations of procurement rules and other concerns for not certifying funds for the contracts. Mayor Sylvester Turner, just one month after being sworn into office, tore up the contracts and restarted the bidding process.
Diaz, however, said Thursday that it was his understanding that the mayor rebid the contracts to get rid of a perception of wrongdoing left by the former city controller — not because there was actually any wrongdoing.
“When we rebid them, the same contractors won,” he said, “which I think was affirmation of the decisions we made the first time around.”
Brown has raised an additional question Wednesday. He released a memo requesting a breakdown of the $76.6 million that has already been spent on this project through seven contracts.
“We have not been made privy to what those funds have done,” city controller spokesman Max Moll said.
Diaz said some of that was spent on design, building a project management office, and for staffing the project management team. Staffing was a significant chunk of that as Diaz said he did not let the staff go after the project stalled in late 2015 and early 2016.
“We never would have gotten those people back,” he said, “and today we would not have the staffing to now move forward with these projects.”
The new Mickey Leland International Terminal will have more lanes in the curbside areas for dropping off and picking up passengers. It will also have more baggage claims and will rectify a problem that has long irked travelers — domestic travelers who land in Terminal E will no longer have to trek to Terminal C to collect their luggage.
“This project is of essential importance to the city,” Diaz said. “If Houston is to remain a top-ranked international gateway to the United States, if we have any hope of reaching a 5-star rating and provide an experience for our passengers that is unsurpassed by any competing cities, we must succeed with this project.”