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Lambert airport officials consider a plan to replace existing terminals with single one

Officials at St. Louis Lambert International Airport are considering a plan to replace the airport's two terminals with a single, consolidated one. Airport users who responded to a public survey said it would be easier to move around a single terminal.
Carolina Hidalgo
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Officials at St. Louis Lambert International Airport are considering a plan to replace the airport's two terminals with a single, consolidated one. Airport users who responded to a public survey said it would be easier to move around a single terminal.

Officials at St. Louis Lambert International Airport are considering a plan to build a new single, consolidated terminal that would replace the airport’s two existing ones.

At a special meeting of the Airport Commission on Wednesday, officials released an airport layout plan update that includes the preferred concept. It would include a reconfigured check-in lobby, new screening space and a new baggage claim area.

Founded in 1920, the airport covers 2,800 acres. It served nearly 16 million passengers in 2019.

For two years, airport officials have been working on a plan to address the airport’s passenger and air traffic needs through 2040. The commission is expected to submit the one-terminal concept in a draft plan to the Federal Aviation Administration this summer.

The design follows a community survey in which airport users who responded said they would prefer a single terminal.

Airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said the plan is only one step in a multiyear endeavor if the airport moves forward.

"I think we're just at a point in our position here at the airport where we have to fiercely think about the future of our facility and where we go,” she said.

The new terminal would retain the iconic Terminal 1 architecture designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the mid-1950s. It replaced the airport’s outdated terminal that was constructed in 1933 and looked like a big train depot.

However, under the plan, the space would be reconfigured, officials said.

An advisory committee that includes FAA personnel, representatives of passenger and cargo airlines, economic development agencies, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County participated in the planning process.

In a public feedback survey through social media last year, more than 300 of the survey's 820 respondents commented that they would prefer a single terminal to replace the airport’s two existing ones.

Some respondents suggested that if the airport sticks with two terminals, they should be connected to make travel between the two more efficient. Passengers now move between terminals on a shuttle bus.

Officials did not give a cost estimate for a new single terminal or describe how it would be funded, but the project would likely be similar to ambitious and expensive projects in other cities. Kansas City is spending $1.5 billion on its new terminal, and Cleveland has a $2 billion terminal project.

Airport construction projects are typically funded through the federal Airport Improvement Program, local passenger facility charges, tax-exempt bonds, state and local grants and airport operating revenues from leases, landing fees and other sources.

The federal infrastructure plan recently passed by Congress includes $25 billion for airports.

Airport officials said they considered 22 terminal concepts, including one that would retain two terminals and reopen Concourse D. But they settled on a single terminal with 62 gates.

Officials said the proposal would need to address how the airport moves thousands of people through the terminal and how it would improve passenger experiences.

“The 62 gates we believe carry us into 2040, but you could move and build additional gates further east,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.

St. Louis Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, asked what an airport project would mean for public transit, as Lambert International includes a MetroLink stop.

Hamm-Niebruegge said airport officials have continued to hold conversations with Bi-State Development and the Missouri Department of Transportation. She said she would like that relationship with MetroLink to continue.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to really start those conversations and the fact that we’re thinking about the future and thinking about this airport and the growth of all of our partners is a very rewarding thing for everybody,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.

Replacing two terminals with one could make the airport easier to run and more cost-efficient, said Colorado-based aviation consultant Michael Boyd.

“In a single terminal you can consolidate things like heat, light and electric[ity],” Boyd said. “You can consolidate security.”

Submitting airport layout plans to the Federal Aviation Administration is a normal procedure for airports around the country, he said. But putting together a quality plan is important if an airport hopes to secure funding to bring the plan to fruition.

“[The FAA] looks at every aspect of it, including how much money is going to be spent, because they’re going to be ponying up most of the money,” Boyd said. “They want to make sure it’s going to be as efficient as possible.”

A single terminal might not make people more likely to fly more often, even if it is more efficient, he said.

“The terminal is really just a conduit for people to get from the road onto the airport and back again,” Boyd said.

Read the airport commission's full briefing:

Chad Davis contributed to this report.

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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