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Port of Seattle plans to continue Sea-Tac project, postpone others

A long ramp leads passengers to the rest of the airport, while offering views of plants and trees outside. Construction manager Tyler Symbol says it's to evoke the sense of coming out of the sky and landing among the Northwest's greenery.
Ed Ronco
A worker inside the new International Arrivals Facility, as it was under construction in mid-February. Work will continue on the project despite the economic downturn.

Before the pandemic brought daily life to a standstill in Washington state, KNKX toured a massive construction project at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Lance Lyttle, the airport's director, said even if an economic slowdown were to arrive — which did not seem imminent in mid-February — it would still be important to continue growing. 

This week, the Port of Seattle said that's exactly what it will do, at least at the airport. 

“Obviously this is a significant downturn, but nobody expects it to last forever,” said Fred Felleman, vice president of the Port of Seattle Commission.

But while work continues at Sea-Tac, the port is postponing work on a new cruise terminal in downtown Seattle. Felleman talked to KNKX about the port continuing many of its construction projects, how it plans to keep workers safe, and the impact those projects are expected to have on the state.


On the decision to keep going with construction: “It’s critical that we keep the economic engine rolling. Obviously, this is a significant downturn but nobody expects it to last forever. Typically things are less expensive when the demand is down. There are challenges, though, because of the added protections you have to put in place to allow for construction to continue safely. And the supply chain has been challenged for some of the products. It’s not quite as straightforward as one would think. But certainly the need to keep construction is important both for the region’s economy as well as … so we have the resilience to resume when things pick up again.”

On keeping workers safe: “This is key to us being able to continue. We’ve made some investments that very few others have (including) buying extra hand tools for the carpetners so there’s less passing the hammers between people. There are certainly places where spacing between people can actually be accommodated because they don’t have to work in an active airport. … There’s a lot of extra cleaning going on. We’re working very carefully with the general contractors and the labor force. We’re putting additional foremen on the job to make sure those protocols we are implementing are being conducted.”

On how the pandemic has shaped the way the port functions: “I’ve always been of the impression that we have to manage growth, not just promote it without end in sight. We have to sustain an effort that allows for the community to thrive. … Sometimes having a reset moment, so we can ramp back up in a way that brings everybody along for the ride … has been something that’s been identified for many years, and we’re doing our best to address, but I think this will perhaps be an opportunity to do it even better.

Business Sea-Tac AirportCoronavirus Coverage
Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.