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Amid Frustration Over Airport Progress, Mayor James Tells Council To ‘Take A Chill Pill’

Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate
City officials are still waiting on the airlines that serve KCI to sign on to a price tag for a new terminal.

Members of the Kansas City council hoped that the New Year would bring good news about the progress of the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

As it turned out, things are very much the same as when they left in December.

The airlines serving the airport still haven’t signed on to the final price of the terminal, nor have they agreed how to split fairly the $20 million annual cost of a shared baggage claim system.

All this was frustrating news for some city councilmembers. Teresa Loar says the airlines that serve KCI work with hundreds of other airports.

“They’re doing renovations and paying for airports every day as far as I know. I don’t know why this one is so hard for them,” Loar said.

Aviation Director Pat Klein argued that this process is actually relatively fast for a  project of this scope. Generally, he said, the airlines have a near-finished design before they sign on to a final price.

Once negotiators agree to the $1.6 billion price tag, they’ll have to get approval from their executives. Those executives could reject the price, although Klein says he expects the biggest airlines — Southwest, United and American — to be on board.

Mayor Sly James said the city’s choice to collaborate with the airlines early on is bound to take more time.

“It’s like the old African proverb: If you want to go fast, you go alone; you want to go far, you go together,” James said.

James said his fellow city councilmembers, half of whom are running to replace him at the end of his term, should calm down and stop “stoking fear.”

“This is a normal business process on a project of this size,” James said.

Still, Councilman Quinton Lucas, who is running for mayor, said voters, who approved the terminal in 2017, are ready to see some action.  

“I think it’s time for us to say, ‘Now, let’s get started and let’s just get this project moving,'" Lucas said.  

The environmental assessment has been moving forward. The aviation department needs four Native American tribes and the Missouri State Historical Preservation Office to sign off. Aviation officials expect to have those signatures within the month of January. The Federal Aviation Administration also needs to sign off, but it's unclear who within FAA has been furloughed due to the partial government shutdown.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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