/ Modified jun 13, 2019 2:59 p.m.

Phoenix airport eyes improvement, expansion in 20-year plan

Officials expect more than 70 million passengers by 2039. It recorded nearly 45 million passengers last year.

Sky Harbor VIEW LARGER Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix.
Coleton Berry/Cronkite News

PHOENIX — Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is looking ahead two decades with a plan that calls for expanding and improving facilities to match projected cargo and passenger growth.

The Phoenix City Council on Tuesday approved the airport's 20-year plan, sending it to the Federal Aviation Administration for review.

Airport officials expect more than 70 million passengers by 2039. It recorded nearly 45 million passengers last year.

"Every month we've been hitting records for the number of people traveling through Sky Harbor," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told the Arizona Republic. "We want to invest ahead of demand so we can continue to provide the same excellent service and experience that travelers expect from us."

The estimated $5.7 billion plan includes moving cargo facilities to land on the airport's north side. The area targeted for expansion is currently blocked by railroad tracks, so the plan calls for lowering the tracks below ground and building taxiways over.

Moving the cargo facilities would free up space for the Air National Guard to expand its refueling operations.

The airport also plans to add gates accessible by bus as the aging Terminal 2 heads for demolition. Passengers would be dropped off from busses to board planes on the tarmac. The airport expects Terminal 2 to be torn down next year.

"Terminal 2 no longer meets the needs that it met in 1962 when it opened," Sky Harbor assistant director Deborah Ostreicher told KTAR-FM . "So Terminal 2 will be coming down, Terminal 3 is being modernized and another concourse is being connected to Terminal 4."

The plan also calls for building a connection between Terminals 3 and 4 to allow passengers who have already passed through security to access both.

"We want to be smart about how we plan for the future," Ostreicher said. "Every time a need comes up if we just make a random decision or even a strategic decision about putting something one place versus another, it may not carry us well into the future."

The city will still need to approve each project in the plan as it comes up. Airport projects are funded by passenger fees as well as state and federal grants.

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