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After two decades of planning, Salt Lake City will begin today building the airport of tomorrow.

The $1.8 billion project will boast a brand-new terminal and, officials say, transform Salt Lake City International into one of the nation's most efficient airports.

One of the construction tricks will be keeping the existing airport running — with all those jets landing and taking off and millions of passengers arriving and departing — while a new airport takes shape around it.

"The logistics of operating an airport while building a new one around it will be a challenge," acknowledged Maureen Riley, executive director of Salt Lake City's Department of Airports. "It's staggeringly complex."

When completed in 2022, the airport will have one terminal rather than the three it now has. It's length will be the equivalent of six Salt Lake City blocks.

The planned airport will have fewer gates — 72 compared to the present 86 — but will be capable of handling more passengers and aircraft, Riley said. About 30 of the present gates are dedicated to smaller, commuter aircraft.

The existing airport was built to handle 10 million passengers annually. It now sees twice that many, Riley explained. The new design has anticipated growth decades into the future — estimated at 23 million to 24 million passengers a year by 2024 and up to 30 million by 2034.

"One of the key design functions is to remain flexible," she said. "We are building in phases."

The long-range master plan allows for an additional concourse to the north, she said. No decision has been made on when that will be built.

About half the new terminal will be operational by spring 2019, according to project manager Mike Williams. The entire terminal will open by summer 2022.

Passengers will begin to see construction this summer on a new parking terrace west of the existing one.

The plan, according to Williams, is to build the parking and car-rental structures first and then realign roadways and the TRAX green line for easy access to the new terminal.

The greatest inconvenience for travelers, he said, will be detours as the ground-transportation routes and parking are built.

The planned three-level terminal is designed so that customs and international travel are on level one. Most travelers will arrive and depart on level two, which will be adjacent to transit and auto lanes. Level two will also house ticketing, baggage claim and car-rental counters. Level three will include an executive lounge, conference and meeting space, and administrative offices.

A spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker said creation of a world-class airport mirrors the city's growing importance as a destination.

"What's happening at the airport," Art Raymond said, "reflects the emergence of Salt Lake City not only as a regional leader but also a leader in the West."

The contemporary design by San Francisco-based HOK is planned to give the airport a "sense of place." To that end, Williams said, it will have a lot of windows looking toward the Wasatch Mountains. And interior materials will be reminiscent of colors and textures found in Utah.

Two companies — Holder Construction of Atlanta and Big-D Construction of Salt Lake City — will build the multifaceted structure.

Among other amenities, the terminal will have an area for group greetings and farewells, Williams said. It also will have a plaza with large windows where travelers can relax and enjoy the views.

A significant amount of food and beverage concessions and retail space will be added. The present airport is woefully short on those items.

Not least, the planned airport will be built to be as energy efficient as possible. Airports use a lot of energy.

"Our target is a reduction of energy by 25 to 30 percent" compared with the present airport, Williams said. "It will incorporate sustainable practices, products and technology."

The project will be funded by passenger facility charges, rental-car fees and federal grants. No Salt Lake City taxpayer dollars will be used, Riley said.

Fast facts about the airport makeover

Price tag • $1.8 billion

Funding • passenger user fees, car-rental fees and federal grants

Capacity • Up to 30 million passengers a year

Terminals • 1

Gates • 72

Efficiencies • Estimated 25 percent to 30 percent less energy use

Completion • Summer 2022