HOUSTON-Construction has begun on a new terminal at the Bush Intercontinental Airport, a $350-million project that will more than double the number of international gates. It is the largest facility expansion in the airport’s history and will include a 550,000-sf state-of-the-art international terminal featuring a glass atrium and 15 to 20 new gates. The terminal will accommodate domestic and international flights, as well as retail shops, concessions and the Presidents Club for VIPs.

To keep up with burgeoning international traffic in Houston, the new Terminal E will be phased in as early as December 2002, with completion expected in mid-2003. The Houston Airport System is responsible for construction, and Continental Airlines will be a major financial contributor to the facility, which is destined to be part of its hub system at Bush Intercontinental.

Only Continental will use the terminal, with the airline paying $235 million for Terminal E and related work. “When it’s all said and done, Houston will have a world-class international facility that will meet passenger demand well into the future,” says Continental Airlines Chairman Gordon Bethune.

Construction of the terminal is part of a larger, $1.7-billion expansion of Bush Intercontinental, Houston airport officials say. The other improvements include adding a third east-west runway, lengthening and widening a general aviation runway for use by air carrier services, building a new cargo facility and a vehicle rental complex for all rental companies.

Also included are taxiways, ramps and a bridge allowing airplanes to taxi over JFK Boulevard. Most of the projects will be completed between 2002 and 2005. The work will be paid for by airport revenue bonds, retired mostly from landing fees and rents from airlines.

The project had been delayed because of environmental concerns. State officials had been worried the expansion would not be consistent with Houston’s smog-reduction plans. Continental and city officials have allayed those fears by agreeing to reduce ground service emissions by 90%. That will be accomplished by converting ground equipment at the airport–tugs, bag loaders and other vehicles that service airplanes–to run on electricity or a cleaner-burning fuel than they now use.

The consolidated vehicle rental facility will replace each of the current patchwork systems of shuttle buses with a common shuttle system using a clean-burning form of diesel fuel. The number of buses will be cut from about 120 to 25. Beyond the 90% reduction of ground service emissions, additional runways and taxiways will cut pollution by reducing take-off time or landing waits on the tarmac, airport officials say.

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