The Kansas City International Rehab Roller Coaster
The Kansas City Aviation Department often has attempted to justify its plan for a $1.2 billion terminal for Kansas City International Airport (MCI) by claiming that repairing the existing terminals would also be extremely expensive. The logic is that if both options will be expensive, the better option is a new terminal that cuts costs and brings in new revenue. We have often asked how much these repairs would cost and when they would be needed, as any comparative cost analysis requires those two pieces of information.
Perhaps in an overeager attempt to answer our questions, the Aviation Department has produced a plethora of cost estimates. In July, keeping the existing terminals supposedly was going to cost about $600 million, with little explanation of those costs. We questioned that number, stating:
KCAD has yet to release an independent analysis of the supposed $600 million improvement costs. But if history is any guide, it is inflating costs. The last renovation of MCI’s terminals took place from 2000 to 2004, and cost the airport $183.4 million . . . The Aviation Department should explain why the new renovation would cost more than double the adjusted expense of the last.
Aside from criticizing the cost estimate, we also pointed out that it is unclear when these repairs are required.
However, by September of 2013, the price estimate of the airport increased, with a range from $645 million to $785 million. Again, we questioned the estimates, stating:
. . . as of a presentation on Sept. 10, the Aviation Department now claims the cost will be between $645 million and $785 million. A cursory inspection of these estimates prompts many questions, as the itemized repair costs are much larger than those for identical or similar items in the new terminal plan’s budget.
Again, there was no time estimate for these needed repairs.
In the last week, those estimates took a nosedive. The Aviation Department now claims that the repair costs are actually between $365 million and $460 million, a 43 percent decrease in the estimate. The department also stated those figures could be lower by a third if one of the terminals is mothballed. Of course, the estimate still prompts questions, like why the repairs to the central utility cost 25 percent more in the repair estimate than in the new terminal plan. The Aviation Department actually put a timeline on these repairs this time, to be completed in 2020. They also began discussing alternatives, such as a structure that centralizes security between the existing terminals.
The debate about the new terminal plan has already been underway for months. An Airport Terminal Advisory Group has met numerous times to make a recommendation to the Kansas City City Council. But with these new estimates, everyone will need to reconsider the cost of the new terminal plan. Moreover, the lack of consistency and transparency in the Aviation Department’s repair estimates mean no one can trust that these estimates are accurate or final.