Sea-Tac's new International Arrivals Facility behind schedule, $300M over budget

SEATTLE -- A major makeover at Sea-Tac International Airport is far over budget and behind schedule.

The Port of Seattle says the International Arrivals Terminal at Sea-Tac is the most complex project in the airport’s history.

The cost overruns and delays sparked the Port to commission an independent review panel to look at the project. They released their review and recommendations Tuesday.

Sea-Tac is the 9th busiest airport in the country, with about 47 million passengers traveling through every year. International travel is rapidly growing but the international arrivals facility isn’t keeping up with demand.

“We’re working with a 50-year-old arrival facility. It’s hopelessly outdated and under capacity right now, which is why people are experiencing frustration,” said Peter Steinbrueck with the Port of Seattle.

A new international arrivals facility had been originally scheduled to open nearly nine months ago.

"We had goals and estimates,” said Steinbrueck. "Yes, I was shocked to hear the escalated cost and delays."

He says the project got underway without a finished design, something known as a Progressive Design Build, which has never been used for past airport projects.

It is supposed to allow quicker completion of projects, giving them a head start with construction while design is still being worked out, but as this project moved forward, the costs and delays added up, prompting the Port to commission an independent review panel.

“We had determined early on that the schedule the Port was targeting was unrealistic and unachievable,” said John Okamoto, one of the reviewers on the panel.

The total cost of the project is $968 million, up about $300 million from earlier estimates.

The reasons the review panel cited were updated elements to meet U.S. Customs and Border Patrol requirements and a tighter construction market in Seattle, increasing the cost for builders around the region, among other things.

"So we have certainty going forward. From this day forward, we have not had that certainty in the past two years in this process,” said Steinbrueck.

A fully finished design and schedule has been agreed upon by the Port and the contractor.

“The schedule is achievable but it’s aggressive,” said Okamoto.

The International Arrivals Facility (IAF) program includes three new elements: a 450,000-square- foot grand hall for baggage claim and customs processing; an 85-foot high aerial walkway that will directly connect passengers from the South Satellite to the grand hall; and a new corridor connecting arriving international passengers on Concourse A.

Supporting projects to expand power, fiber optic technology and high-speed baggage services will significantly speed up processing during peak international arrival periods, officials say.

"We don’t want to deter international travel and send them elsewhere. Our region depends on it, our economy depends on it, it’s critically important,” said Steinbrueck.

The new timeline for the International Arrivals Facility to open is August 2020.

The breakdown of the $968 million revenue, a majority comes from federal fees that are added to every ticket price at all U.S airports; the rest comes from airport revenue generated by airport businesses, not public taxes.