Houston's chief financial officer pumping brakes on $2.6B project to expand Terminal B at IAH

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Wednesday, December 13, 2023
$2.6B plan to upgrade Terminal B at IAH facing approval delays
A $2.6 billion project to expand Terminal B at IAH may be delayed as the city's chief financial officer is pumping the brakes.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's not only airline flights that can get delayed during the holiday season. A $2.6 billion upgrade to Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental Airport is late out of the gate.

The deal is between the city and United Airlines, with the air carrier picking up two-thirds of the cost. But is it a good agreement for taxpayers? The mayor says yes. The city controller, the chief financial officer, is not yet sure.

"For anyone who has been at Intercontinental Airport and have gone through Terminal B, you know it's in need of substantial upgrades," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

So far this year, that's more than 4.3 million passengers who have flown into, out of, or connected through the aging terminal that United Airlines manages.

"United will totally redo Terminal B," Turner said. "It will be a whole new terminal."

Among the improvements: Expanded curbside and roadway capacity, ticketing lobby, and baggage claim area. A streamlined TSA security process and a new baggage handling system. Improved gates and all flights will use jet bridges. There's also an expanded United Club.

Of the estimated $2.6 billion cost, about $1.9 billion is debt that United will pay back to the city.

"Over two thirds of the cost are being born by United with no financial liability coming back on the city," Turner said.

But the city's chief financial officer, who is responsible for signing off on the funds, is not yet convinced. Chris Brown said he has not had enough time to look at the numbers. He had weeks to look at what he said would normally be a six-month process.

"What would happen if there was another (COVID-19) or, God forbid, 9/11 and we saw a significant reduction in air traffic? How are those payments being covered?" Brown told ABC13. "(The process is) definitely rushed."

United gave ABC13 this statement in which the company said it is "committed to providing the best travel experience to our customers, and that includes investing in the $2.6B redevelopment of our Houston hub. We are eager for the Houston City Council to approve their portion of this project so we can deliver on the numerous benefits to our customers and employees and continue to invest in the city of Houston."

Meanwhile, the mayor says he sees no downside.

"It's a huge economic multiplier for the city of Houston," he said.

Brown agrees, but it's not yet ready for takeoff.

"We definitely do appreciate United's ongoing partnership. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure this is a good value for the taxpayer," Brown said. "I believe it to be a great deal for United, and we just want to make sure the taxpayer is protected in this situation."

With only weeks left in this administration, the project could be handed off to the next mayor and the next controller.

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