DENVER (KDVR) — The biggest Federal Aviation Administration project in the country is underway right now at Denver International Airport.
More than $50 million went into a plan to improve safety and efficiency. The improvements are coming as some big questions loom over a potential government shutdown.
“It’s exciting to see this project done,” said Phil Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport.
Washington, Gov. Jared Polis, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were on hand to cut a ribbon at the airport, marking the final touches on a new taxiway and taxiway lights.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds airport upgrades
The project totals more than $50 million, mostly covered by the federal government through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The FAA designated a hot spot between Taxiways M and ED on the northeast side of the terminal at the airport, highlighting a potential risk for flight collisions. Leaders said that other airports deal with similar hot spots, but the new taxiway and lights should eliminate the hot spot in Denver.
“In terms of efficiency, this takes us from 770,000 operations annually to 850,000 operations annually. That is a 10% increase in our efficiency,” Washington said.
Buttigieg explained the expected benefits.
“It removes a situation where aircraft can go into a dangerous zone in a hot spot, and it means that things operate more smoothly more efficiently,” Buttigieg told FOX31. “More flights are on time, and you can have more capacity at this airport, which is growing like crazy. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how quickly air travel demand would pick up, and Denver is a classic example of that.”
Government shutdown threat looms large
As leaders celebrated the dollars approved by Congress two years ago, there was an elephant in the room about Congress’ current actions.
“I’d be remised if I did note that as we speak, some members of Congress are threatening to hold our progress hostage,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg warned Denver’s airport and others around the nation could see some major impacts if proposed cuts are made to the spending bill in Congress or the federal government shuts down because of inaction.
“It would stop us in our tracks when it comes to growing the air traffic control workforce, when we need to be adding air traffic controllers to prevent staffing delays to the system,” Buttigieg said of the potential shutdown. “We finally got cancellations back down from last year — they are actually below what they were during COVID. But this is going to be a wrench in the works for all of that progress. You’ve got air traffic controllers who won’t be getting paid, service members who won’t be getting paid. I cannot believe that Congress would allow that to happen.”
Although the airport upgrades were celebrated on Tuesday, Washington said the impacts of a federal pause would be a disaster.
“I think about our folks in uniform in terms of a military shutdown. And secondly, I think about these workers that are out here. I think about the firefighters, I think about the first responders out here, I think about all of them. I think about government workers. So I think Congress needs to do their job, like we are doing our jobs out here at this airport,” Washington told FOX31.
Construction on Taxiway EE is set to be completed sometime in the middle of October.