Airport remains a dynamic presence
Bob Ray Sanders COMMENTARY - Star-Telegram
On a visit to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport last week, I saw its spacious new $1 billion terminal bustling with people.
The new elevated train, which runs about 50 feet above ground and makes the old AirTrans system look like an ancient relic, swiftly carried passengers from one station to the other in an average time of five minutes. And guests at the new Grand Hyatt Hotel, sitting atop the international terminal, enjoyed the vista from a rooftop spa and pool.
What a sight it was.
Of course, these were all virtual images, computer-generated to give the viewer an idea of what things will look like when the largest construction project in Texas is completed in 2005. The nation's third-busiest airport is in the middle of a $2.6 billion capital development program, which includes construction of the 2 million-square-foot terminal building and the impressive $847-million Skylink people-mover system. Leaving the virtual and going to the actual, the project is still amazing. The new Terminal D and hotel complex, a concrete, steel and glass structure taking shape in the heart of the airport, is bustling with people. About 5,000 construction workers are there each day.
And, this is one massive project that is on schedule -- and on budget.
As I toured the site with D/FW CEO Jeff Fegan and Senior Executive Vice President Kevin Cox, my mind flashed back more than three decades to when the concrete was being poured for the first terminal building. It's hard to believe that, until work began on this new project, no new terminal had been built since the airport opened 29 years ago. Along with hundreds of millions of dollars in support infrastructure, airfield improvements, and roadways and parking, it is clear that the giant economic engine of the Metroplex will continue to be a force for years to come. Those Fort Worth and Dallas leaders who decided to build "an airport the size of Manhattan" were obviously visionaries, but they were also practical people who understood that others would have to come along and continue to build on their dreams.
Fegan and Cox, while excited about the airport's building boom, are even more ecstatic about the feat they pulled off on Wall Street last month that helps secure D/FW's future for at least 50 more years. At what many would have considered the worst possible time -- post-9/11, the world's largest airline teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and the SARS scare -- D/FW officials went to the bond market and sold a record $1.46 billion worth of bonds in one day. In three hours, to be exact. It was the largest sale in D/FW's history and the largest one-day sale by any airport in U.S. history, airport officials said.
And the airport had enough buyers to have sold twice as many bonds that day.
Bond rating services cited the airport's importance to national air service, competitive cost structure, its proactive management and the "diversified and growing service area" among its strengths. Because of the lower-than-expected interest rate, D/FW will save $566 million in interest over a 20-year period and an estimated $1.1 billion over the life of the bonds. That bond sale also speaks well for the North Texas economy and, of course, the future growth of the area.
Perhaps no better symbol of that future is the Skylink, which, except for the short connection to Terminal D, is complete. I had a chance to walk into one of the train cars that, unlike AirTrans, will be a bi-directional system moving 5,000 passengers per hour. Trains will arrive at stations every two minutes, Cox said. From the 50-foot-high track that winds through the airport, riders will be able to see the skylines of Fort Worth and Dallas, the two cities that, 40 years ago, stopped feuding long enough to create an engineering and economic wonder.