The arguments being made to support an estimated $1.2 billion rebuild of Kansas City International Airport continue to be unconvincing.
Lawrence residents wouldn’t be involved in supporting this project with their tax dollars, but anyone who uses the airport is likely to be affected by increased fees or airfares that result from an upgrade.
The primary justification for the project continues to be the need to add various amenities at the airport and project a more “dynamic, innovative” image for Kansas City. While some expansion of services at KCI might be desirable, the fact remains that what most people want from an airport is a clean, efficient facility that is easy to access and keeps charges for parking and other services at a reasonable level.
Speaking to the KCI Terminal Advisory Board earlier this week, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Jim Heeter described KCI as “a little league airport” that fails to convey “a sense of place.” KCI doesn’t have enough restaurants and shops, he said, and lacks the kind of restrooms that corporate executives are accustomed to finding at other big-city airports.
An airport needs to provide services to travelers who are transferring or waiting for delayed flights, and it’s valid to expect restaurants and shops to stay open later than the 6 p.m. closing time that is standard for many KCI businesses. However, it doesn’t cost $1.2 billion to make sure that people who are caught at the airport can buy a magazine or get a bite to eat. As far as the restrooms, we’re not sure what kind of restrooms executives are used to, but the facilities at many metropolitan airports fall far below those at KCI in terms of cleanliness and convenience. What do these business executives want?
Other business leaders say KCI needs technology upgrades and closer parking. How much closer can parking be than in the center of the horseshoe terminal? That parking is never full because most people prefer to park in less expensive lots, and it seems unlikely that any new “closer” parking would be less expensive.
Some proponents also argue that it’s difficult to attract connecting flights to KCI because passengers may need to shuttle to another terminal to make their connections. Stepping up the frequency of buses could alleviate much of that problem, and it really isn’t much of a problem anyway because, of the 9 million passengers that came through KCI last year, only 268,000 (about 3 percent) were making a connection.
The attitude of those promoting airport improvements seems indicative of people who are looking at spending someone else’s money. While business leaders and airport officials are sharing visions of grandeur for KCI, some airline officials — including those for one of KCI’s biggest users, Southwest — are saying the facilities are fine and that a new terminal could drive up ticket prices. The public also has been united in opposition to major airport renovations. People who use KCI like the convenience of the current airport and are concerned about rising costs connected to a new facility.
It’s true that KCI wasn’t designed to accommodate modern security operations and services often are lacking for people flying in and out of the airport in the evening hours. However, it seems entirely possible to address those problems without spending $1.2 billion to replace the existing convenient and functional facility.