JWA on a new timetable
Expansion plans are reshuffled partly because of higher-than-anticipated construction costs.
By JEFF OVERLEY
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The timetable for an ambitious expansion of John Wayne Airport will be reshuffled, and the design of planned buildings might be tweaked, partly because of high construction costs, officials say.
Only one contract for work on the roughly $435 million project has been awarded. But the cost – nearly $31 million to add overnight aircraft parking, up from an estimated $23 million – has caused officials to tinker with the entire expansion.
The sequence in which a new terminal and parking structures are built will shift, though the overall schedule won't change, with work starting in spring and finishing in 2012.
Officials want to front-load essential elements because of cost concerns but also to get vital services up and running sooner, spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said. "This might not be the last time things change," she added.
With the bulk of construction contracts still not awarded, it's unclear if the overall price tag will grow. Officials are keen to avoid a boondoggle, highlighting what they say is a record of fiscal prudence at the airport.
Since the Thomas F. Riley terminal opened in 1990, the airport hasn't borrowed to cover the cost of any new work. New parking structure levels were among several projects funded on a pay-as-you-go basis.
To keep the current expansion within budget, officials might rethink architecture or amenities, and new parking could be scaled back if demand is lighter than expected. Sizable room for trims could come from the new terminal, which alone is estimated to cost nearly $250 million.
"When you're talking about this amount of money, you want to put everything on the table," said Supervisor John Moorlach, who represents airport-area cities and was briefed on the situation last week.
The scope of the project remains largely the same. Six new gates will still be added, allowing the transportation hub to accommodate 10.8 million passengers annually, up from the 8.4 million for which it was designed. International flights might be allowed as well.
The project's costs were estimated in 2004. While the price of many building materials has stabilized of late, overall costs rose steeply in recent years, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
For passengers, the new timeline will affect parking. Previously, officials planned to build a new parking structure before razing and rebuilding an existing one on the airport's south end.
Now, many travelers will park on the new overnight aircraft lot beginning in late 2008, then be shuttled to the terminal until late 2010, when a new parking structure is built.
Also, some planes will be parked on portions of the airfield. "We're shoehorning aircraft and people into every available space," said Courtney Wiercioch, the airport's public affairs director.
As for cost, officials say they're confident the expansion is on solid ground. The extra cost for overnight aircraft parking is being covered by a federal grant and contingency funds, and more than $30 million is set aside for any unexpected developments with the rest of the project.
"We will still make sure we get a quality facility at a reasonable price," Wiercioch said. "The bottom line is, we won't build what we can't fund."
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