SAN FRANCISCO--The construction of the mammoth international
terminal at San Francisco Airport was slowed by El Nino rainstorms
earlier this year, but airport officials expect to make up the time
and meet the projected opening date of May 2000.
"We're a little behind because of El Nino, but we'll accelerate
certain phases of the construction to bring us up to date," said
airport spokesman Ron Wilson.
The $2.4 billion project will add a 24-gate terminal across the
front of the existing horseshoe-shaped airport terminal layout. The
result will be a doubling of the size of the airport, which is the
fifth largest in the U.S. and the seventh largest in the world, and
an increase in the number of international gates from 10 to 24.
International traffic is expected to fuel much of SFO's growth
in the future. Today, the airport handles about 40 million
passengers a year, 15% of whom are on international flights. But by
2006, an estimated 51 million passengers are projected, 22% of them
The new gates will accommodate the largest aircraft in operation
today, 747-400s, and larger aircraft of the future. "The gates are
being constructed so they can be expanded or reduced to handle 600-
and 700-passenger planes being designed now by Boeing and Airbus,"
Passengers arriving and departing SFO this year and next face an
often bewildering array of new roadways and detours along U.S.
Highway 101, which is being widened and reconfigured at the airport
entrance. There can be as many as four to five changes a day in
roadway configurations to accommodate construction crews that are
building new on-ramps, off-ramps and frontage roads. However,
Wilson said "the construction has not been a hindrance" to travel
to the airport because builders are careful not to close lanes
during peak hours. "We've designed the terminal project so that any
work that restricts vehicular movement occurs at night," he
Several other projects are under way simultaneously. One is the
construction of a light rail system that will link all four
terminals, a new rental car facility, parking garages and the
United maintenance facility. The system is projected to start
rolling at the end of 2000.
The rental car facility just northwest of the airport is slated
to open this November. Shuttle buses will carry arriving passengers
on the five-minute ride to the facility, located on a frontage road
off U.S. Highway 101. "To reduce congestion at the airport, with
each car rental company operating its own shuttles, there will be
just one bus for all the companies" at the facility, Wilson
Also under construction is a much-anticipated station for Bay
Area Rapid Transit (BART), which received necessary approvals and
financing for an extension from its Colma/Daly City station to SFO.
That project is not expected to be completed until 2002. When
completed, passengers will be able to travel from downtown San
Francisco on BART to the airport station at the international
terminal. If they are traveling on a domestic flight, they would
transfer by taking an escalator one flight up to the light rail
system, which will carry them to one of the three domestic
The light rail system eventually will extend to the only on-site
hotel at the airport. That property is planned for a portion of the
site of the former Airport Hilton, which was torn down earlier this
year to make room for new on-ramps and off-ramps from U.S. Highway
101 to SFO. The airport has started the bid process to allow
developers to construct a 500-room, high-rise hotel at the entrance
to the airport. Wilson estimated that a hotel could open at the
site by the end of 2002.
Other projects in the works are the construction of two parking
structures, one of them on the north side and one on the south side
of the airport entrance, to accommodate 3,000 vehicles.