$560 million and barely any travelers clear the runway for new Southwest and United gates at DIA

Pink clouds not necessarily included.

A rendering of the new gates, which will not actually service "World Airlines" as far as we know. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

A rendering of the new gates, which will not actually service "World Airlines" as far as we know. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

staff photos

Even as COVID-19 continues to depress air travel, passengers can expect 39 new gates to open at Denver International Airport by early 2022, with some new portals opening at the end of this year.

On Monday, the Denver City Council OK’d $560 million in contract extensions for five companies designing and building the gates, many of which will serve Southwest Airlines and United Airlines customers and increase DIA’s plane capacity by 30 percent.

The money will also fund improvements to things like bathrooms and moving walkways that were initially planned for later but were added into the contracts so DIA could take advantage of its sparse traffic.

Passenger traffic has nosedived at DIA since COVID-19 broke out. During the final week of April, 93 percent fewer travelers passed through the airport compared to the same period last year, DIA officials said in a statement. With no crowds, contractors HNTB, Holder-FCI, Jacobs Engineering Group, Turner Flatiron and WSP will have room to operate without having to worry much about disrupting the airport’s flow, airport CEO Kim Day told council members earlier this month at a committee meeting.

A rendering of the gate expansion project at DIA. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

A rendering of the gate expansion project at DIA. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

A rendering of the gate expansion project at DIA. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

A rendering of the gate expansion project at DIA. (Courtesy, Denver International Airport)

“We have obligations to our airline partners to … move them into the spaces that they have agreed to and signed up for on their leases,” Day said. “And we can take advantage of the low traffic right now to complete projects much more efficiently.”

Despite the low traffic, projections for the project’s completion have barely changed since ground broke in 2018. Back then, officials said the gates would open by spring 2021. Early 2021 is still the conservative estimate, a DIA official told council members earlier this month.

Southwest and United signed leases for some of the gates this winter, with United adding 24 to its stable and Southwest adding 16. The spaces will extend all three terminals and include new lounges, nursing rooms, restrooms, outdoor patios and — of course — new places to spend money.

In all, the gate expansion costs $1.5 billion. A combination of bonds sold by DIA in 2018, passenger fees and federal grants — including money from the CARES Act, an emergency relief law passed by Congress — will pay for the enhancements, according to an email from a DIA official to Councilman Kevin Flynn. Most of the money is restricted to capital improvement projects.

The $560 million OK’d by local elected officials is a ceiling, not a floor, meaning the airport won’t necessarily spend all the money, airport officials said.

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