MEXICO CITY (AP) — After vowing on the campaign trail to scrap an ambitious new airport being built for Mexico City, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday that the fate of the $15.7 billion project should be decided by the nation’s people.
Lopez Obrador, who is to take office Dec. 1, said at a news conference that he will ask the current president to hold a national public consultation or poll on the airport around the end of October.
Benito Juarez International on the capital’s east side handles more traffic than its designed capacity, and experts say a solution is urgently needed to satisfy growing demand and avoid missing out on market share. Surrounded by densely packed residential neighborhoods, the airport has no room to add to its two runways.
Under current President Enrique Pena Nieto, construction began in 2016 on a new airport designed in collaboration with celebrated architect Norman Foster. Located about 10 miles northeast of the current one, the airport initially would have three runways, with a capacity for expansion to six.
Residents near the construction site have opposed the new airport.
Lopez Obrador promised during his campaign to cancel the project. He said he favored a cheaper and quicker proposal: Keep the current airport and add two runways to the Santa Lucia military air base well north of Mexico City for a second commercial airport.
However, the president-elect’s team has received a study by the U.S. corporation Mitre saying that while the alternative plan is technically feasible, it presents important logistical problems and overall is unviable.
Lopez Obrador said a decision will be made after asking for new studies and holding public debate. He said the pros and cons of each plan should be evaluated. He promised that investments and contracts for the airport under construction will be respected if the project is halted.
According to data offered by his team Friday, advantages for continuing with the new airport include its proximity to Mexico City and 75 percent of financing has already been secured. Negatives are it could present environmental risks and cause airport tariffs and ticket fees to rise.
Javier Jimenez Espriu, tapped by Lopez Obrador to be Mexico’s next transportation secretary, said the cost of the airport project has risen from an initial $9 billion to $15.7 billion.
The Santa Lucia plan has an estimated price tag of around $3.6 billion, but going that route would also incur more than $5 billion in costs related to halting construction. Jimenez said that would have an impact on next year’s federal budget as well as financial markets.
In a statement, Damian Zepeda, president of the conservative National Action Party, called the proposed popular consultation “a joke.”
“There is a great amount of investment that has already been made and it is completely and technically documented that this project is necessary,” Zepeda said.
An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect that one of the proposals calls for two new runways at a military base north of the capital, not at the current international airport.