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Denver airport’s underground train at capacity, needs seventh runway

Kevin Flynn
kevin.flynn@indenvertimes.com
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” An update to Denver International Airport’s master plan may easily resolve the issue of where to build a new east-west runway – a major step to untangling one of the airport’s infrequent but nagging wind-direction problems.

But it might not be so easy to find the right solution to what may be the biggest problem with expanding the airport, now handling the 50 million passengers a year for which it was designed.

It’s the underground people-mover train. It’s running at capacity, and there are physical constraints that defy easy solutions.

DIA is going to the public next week with a series of community meetings for input from the public on how to expand the airport. The meetings are: Monday, Commerce City Administration Building, 7887 E. 60th Avenue, open house 4-6 p.m., with a presentation during City Council Study Session; Tuesday, Doubletree Hotel, 3203 Quebec Street, Denver, open house 4-8 p.m., presentation 6 p.m.; Wednesday, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 15500 E. 40th Avenue, Denver, open house 4-8 p.m., presentation 6 p.m.; and Thursday, Red Lion Hotel, 3200 S. Parker Road, Aurora, open house 4-8 p.m., presentation 6 p.m.

The underground train is a key to moving passengers to two planned future concourses north of Concourse C.

The trains run in parallel tunnels with lower level stations between them in each concourse and the terminal. But the tunnels cannot be expanded to either side, because that’s where the baggage hauling tunnels are located, just beyond the outer walls of the train tunnels.

The trains already run with the maximum four cars, all that the station platforms can handle. And they run frequently enough that it would be difficult for the layout to handle one more train set in the mix.

The solution may involve something never envisioned in the original plan – constructing smaller concourses flanking the terminal, which passengers could reach without having to ride the train.

That and other out-of-the-box ideas such as moving the security screening areas out to the east and west sides of the terminal, are expected to be put on the table during the new master plan

“It may be hard to believe, but our current master plan is 20 years old, and it is now time for us to start working on an update to it,” said Aviation Manager Kim Day in a keynote address to about 2,000 people at a luncheon sponsored by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

“We need to address all the dynamic changes to the aviation industry in the last 14 years, including changes to security and technology, which have greatly altered passenger processing, as well as changes to aircraft size, and airline markets, which will influence our future footprint.

“We must plan in a smart way, one that does not preclude any of our long-term

potential.”

With 44 square miles of land and a layout that can accommodate 12 runways, DIA is set to place its seventh runway. DIA currently has four north-south runways, which handle bad-weather arrivals and departures. Winter storms usually bring north winds. Only two runways are east-west.

But from time to time, strong winds from the west have restricted the flow of arriving and departing flights to those two runways – one of the weak links in an otherwise highly efficient airfield design.

Airport planners initially considered whether to build a fifth north-south strip before adding an east-west, but are now settled on the east-west runway.

Where to put it? DIA’s original plan called for a total of eight north-south and four east-west runways. The plan called for the seventh one to be built as an east-west strip south of Pena Boulevard, parallel to the existing Runway 7-25 from which planes depart to the west along the rental car strip along 78th Avenue.

In that design, Pena Boulevard would run between two runways instead of alongside one.

Initially, that design entailed a bridge across Pena for airplanes to taxi to the south side runway. Without that, planes would have to taxi far around to the east and through the cargo area south of Pena.

That can be expensive.

So planners are taking a second look at where to put the next runway, considering the originally planned location for the fourth east-west strip.

That’s on the northeast quadrant of the airfield, parallel to Runway 8-26, frequently used for eastbound departures. It can be reached at grade by extending an existing taxiway.

Day said later that the Federal Aviation Administration is working closely with DIA on the airfield study. Determining which runway location is better could take into account an FAA redesign of the airspace and approach paths over the Denver terminal air traffic control area.


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