The opening of New Orleans’ new $1 billion airport terminal has been delayed to fall 2019.
The city of New Orleans and the New Orleans Aviation Board announced the delay Thursday (April 11) in a news release, noting the decision comes after “evaluating the status of all construction activities and consulting with key stakeholders.” This the fourth time the opening has been pushed back. The airport was most recently set to open May 15.
“The fact is: it is not ready, and there is more work to be done to get us there,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in the release.
Cantrell added that she accepts the responsibility “of making sure that when our new airport opens, it is at 100 percent readiness.”
The new 35-gate terminal, currently under construction on the north side of the airport property, will completely replace the city’s existing airport facility. The delay will allow more time for “testing, training and implementation of key systems,” as the airport transitions, the release said.
Construction crews broke ground on the new terminal in January 2016 with the goal of opening for New Orleans’ tricentennial in 2018. The opening date was pushed back to February 2019 after officials decided to expand the project, adding five gates to the original 30-gate layout.
Last summer, crews discovered that sinking land was causing the facility’s main sewer line to sag. Officials pushed the opening back to May 2019 to allow crews to complete the $7.5 million fix.
The cost of the project has risen over that time. The original plans called for a $598 million facility. The expansion decision bumped that up to $993 million. As of late 2018, the project cost was just over $1 billion, including the cost of fixing the sewer line.
On a recent tour of the terminal, crews were continuing work on constructing the majority of the concessions in the concourses. Pavers were laying asphalt on the facility’s access roads and the striping on surface parking lots was complete. The bulk of the facility’s flooring, bathrooms and signage were in place, however, features like security checkpoint lanes had yet to take shape. The project is about 95 percent complete, according to the release.
Also missing is a flyover ramp connecting Interstate 10 to the new terminal at Loyola Drive in Kenner. Funding for the flyover construction, which is being overseen by the state, didn’t come together until early 2018, two years after crews broke ground on the terminal. The state Department of Transportation and Development expects to start construction on the flyover ramp this fall. It won’t be completed until at least 2023.
In the meantime, a DOTD contractor is working on widening the section of Loyola Drive between I-10 and Veterans Memorial Boulevard, which will lead into the airport entrance. Officials have warned travelers to prepare for increased traffic when headed to the airport for the foreseeable future.
In Thursday’s news release, officials said the delay will allow “local residents time to become accustomed to the new access routes” in addition to giving construction crews and airport operations some breathing room.
In the release, Doug Thornton, a senior vice president of SMG, which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and chair of the New Orleans Aviation Board’s construction committee, said the decision to delay the opening is in the “best interest of our partners and the community.”
“It’s a big and complicated project, so it’s important we take this time to ensure that all systems are fully functional,” Thornton said.
Operations will continue as per usual at the city’s existing airport terminal. The airport will also be moving forward with conducting real-life trials at the new terminal over the summer. Officials will be calling for volunteers to assist in the trials in the coming weeks, according to the release.
Kevin Dolliole, the airport’s director of aviation, noted in the release that the $1 billion terminal is the largest infrastructure project to be completed in the region in recent memory. The extra time will ensure it gets off to a good start, he said.
“The additional time is going to allow us to deliver a world-class airport and ensure a safe and seamless transition so that our passengers have the best possible experience,” Dolliole said.
Officials plan to announce a specific opening date later this year.