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"New Orleans set to choose airport consultant for dramatic overhaul"
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
New Orleans set to choose airport consultant for dramatic overhaul
By Michelle Krupa
The New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune
New Orleans officials Wednesday are slated to choose the first of five
consultants whose work would serve as a blueprint for overhauling
oft-derided Louis Armstrong International Airport, which Mayor Mitch
Landrieu last summer said he plans to transform into a "world-class"
airport. Airport officials and top Landrieu aides in August suggested two
plans that could satisfy the mayor's wish: expanding the existing airfield
by adding new terminals to the west, or constructing a new main terminal on
airport-owned property between the current airport and Interstate 10,
adjacent to dense Kenner neighborhoods.
Under one scenario, the Louis Armstrong International Airport terminal would
be converted into a cargo station.
Though both alternatives remain on the table, city and airport officials
seem to be leaning toward the second option.
During an hourlong presentation Tuesday to the City Council's airport
committee, Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad rolled out a sophisticated
presentation that showed a new passenger terminal along Veterans Memorial
A short animated video took viewers on a simulated flight down the
Mississippi River, through downtown New Orleans and into Metairie, and
showed the current terminal converted into a cargo station.
Besides highlighting rail and highway access to the site, the video featured
arrows indicating the potential movement of goods from the stretch of river
nearest the airport to the converted terminal -- apparently through
Though Ahmad emphasized the clip aimed to offer only one of many options
industry experts might suggest, he said after the meeting that increasing
cargo traffic could generate revenue to finance the construction of
"If we could do intermodal, we could attract some more business here," he
said. "There are hundreds of millions of tons of goods coming to the Port of
New Orleans. Can I take 1 million tons and send it out through aviation?
"I bet I would make more money than Gary LaGrange," Ahmed said, referring to
the port president. "And federal law ... mandates that I must spend that
money at that airport, and what that creates is opportunities."
Landrieu's top aide, Andy Kopplin, last summer touted a new terminal as the
more affordable choice because construction would occur outside the existing
flight security zone. He also noted the potential lucrative reuse of the
current terminal, possibly as a cargo transit hub.
Airport officials today are expected to choose from among four firms
competing to serve as project manager for a broad analysis of the two
options, which were laid out in the airport's long-term strategic plan long
before Landrieu expressed his support.
The management firm would oversee other consultants that would handle
architectural design, environmental assessment, land-use and development and
a financial feasibility study, Ahmad told council members.
Together, the contracts are expected to cost $7.5 million and to all be
awarded by May, he said, adding that completion of the work is hard to peg
because environmental evaluations could delay the planning process from six
to 18 months.
Ahmad has estimated that a new airport, or a significantly renovated one,
could cost more than $1 billion, with financing coming from a patchwork of
federal money, local airline fees and other sources -- but almost certainly
not a local fee or tax that would affect residents who don't use the
While supporting the concept of an improved Louis Armstrong International,
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell emphasized that airport officials must
figure out how to pay for the project themselves.
"The public has reached a saturation point on government asking for money,"
Aviation Board Chairman Nolan Rollins sounded a similar theme. In soliciting
firms to analyze the options, he said a key question the board wants
answered is, "How do we make sure these costs aren't passed on to the
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