Smoother Landings

County finds $1.3 billion to fix airport’s problems

By Howard Schmidt
April 2023

Traveling via Sacramento International Airport has its frustrations.

There’s the wait for the people-mover train to reach your gate at Concourse B. When it arrives, you crowd into compartments with other passengers and risk exposure to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Then there’s the lack of parking near both terminals. And the need to ride a shuttle bus to rental car agencies.

Now Sacramento County’s Department of Airports is doing something to remedy the situation with a $1.3 billion expansion. Besides improving infrastructure, the goal is to enhance the airport experience and accommodate projected passenger growth.

A $140 million pedestrian walkway connecting Terminal B to Concourse B is slated to start next year. Once completed, the walkway will give passengers a choice between the train or walking to the concourse.

Gates will be added to both terminals to allow more flights. Last month, Southwest Airlines began direct flights to Nashville, Tennessee.

A new Terminal B parking garage will be built, along with a consolidated ground transportation center to centralize taxi, ride-share and shuttles into a single area, walkable from both terminals.

By late 2027, a new $400 million rental car facility should be completed to let passengers access rental car agencies without a shuttle.

“I am thrilled to see the launch of SMForward, the largest construction program in Sacramento County’s history,” says Supervisor Rich Desmond, using the project slogan. “This ambitious project not only signifies growth and progress for our region but also serves as a testament to our unwavering commitment to providing worldclass facilities and infrastructure for the people of Sacramento County and its visitors.

“SMForward will not only enhance the travel experience but also create jobs and economic opportunities for local businesses.”

The work represents implementation of the airport master plan, which the Board of Supervisors approved last year. The plan anticipated the need for additional facilities to meet the growing demand for air travel.

Current usage exceeds peer airports in the region after unprecedented impacts from the pandemic. In 2022, SMF nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. Forecasts show steady passenger growth averaging 4.3 percent annually through 2041.

“The airport experience is the first impression many people see when they arrive in Northern California, and the last as they leave,” says Cindy Nichol, Director of Sacramento County Department of Airports. She acknowledges the airport’s parking, concourses and roadways have several choke points and says SMForward will address these problems.

The project is financed through a combination of federal and state grants, municipal bonds issued by the airport and user fees. This means the burden of payment will not fall on local taxpayers.

Howard Schmidt worked on federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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