DIA is getting an upgrade! It’s for the bags

It’s a $500 million contract. But it’s not $500 million dollars.

Mayor Michael Hancock's face greets people entering Denver via international flights. May 8, 2022.

Mayor Michael Hancock's face greets people entering Denver via international flights. May 8, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The Denver City Council has given the greenlight on improvements to Denver International Airport’s baggage system. A five-year, $500 million contract was unanimously approved and awarded to PCL Construction during the City Council’s regular meeting Monday. However it is yet to be seen if the money will become available for the half-a-billion dollar contract.

The project is known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Recapitalization and Baggage Handling Modernization project. It has five parts, two of which have the funding and would replace DIA’s 31 aging computer tomography x-ray (CTX) explosive detection screening machines with 25 more efficient screening machines.

“This puts the tool in our toolbox to move quickly, obligate these funds and implement them. And ideally continue to put us in that front seat to receive the most funds from the FAA as they become available through the process,” DEN Special Projects Senior Vice President Michael Sheehan said during a presentation to Council on Monday.

The new machines’ screening capabilities would be upgraded from 400 bags to 674 bags per hour. DIA already has funding for these improvements, which are estimated at $130 million. The airport received $55 million from TSA last year. Then the city matched TSA – which it’s required to do to keep the funds – with nearly $75 million as part of its capital improvement program.

Three future pieces to the project include upgrading high speed diverters, the curbside conveyors, baggage claim conveyors, and inbound and outbound lifts between terminals. But those plans have yet to receive funding.

Sheehan said the approval of the contract will advance the project and, he claims, help receive the federal funding needed.

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega expressed discomfort in approving the contract due to that lack of existing funding.

“This is a huge ask when we have a half a million dollar threshold. This is $500 million that’s being requested with a carte blanche approval to allow DEN to just move forward with all of these projects knowing full well we don’t have all of the money and the matching money to be able to do them,” Ortega said.

The city also recently received $60 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and is obligated to match those funds by the end of the year.

Ortega still voted in favor of the contract. But she requested that Sheehan return to the City Council with updates on funds and approval.

 

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