SALT LAKE CITY — As the $3.6 billion redesign of the Salt Lake City International Airport soars along toward the 2020 opening of its first phase, some finishing details have already begun emerging.
There are copper colored exterior panels, meant to mimic Utah's characteristic red rock. Reddish-brown, metallic tiles also line some interior walls. Some bathrooms have also nearly been completed.
Those details include the first glimpses of how the new airport will look when travelers will first be able to step foot inside the south concourse next year, the first of two concourses expected to be finished by the end of 2020.
Airport officials on Monday gave media another behind-the-scenes tour of the massive construction site, providing a progress update on the state's largest public project to date.
But among all the new, there was one old feature that has been waiting more than a decade to be revealed.
Media got the first glimpse of a tunnel that was first planned in the late 1990s and completed 14 years ago, in 2004, in anticipation of the massive airport re-design.
The tunnel was funded by a federal grant of about $8 million, planned to connect the south concourse with the future north concourse.
"The project really couldn't be built without this tunnel being in place," Mike Williams, airport redevelopment program director, said as he led Monday's tour. "It would be much more difficult to phase our way through this project."
The tunnel, which stretches beneath the taxiway, will also have moving walkways to help travelers quickly connect with the north concourse — also expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
Later on, another more central tunnel will connect the two parallel concourses, planned for phase 2 of the project, Williams said.
Smells of welding fumes and, occasionally, paint lingered Monday throughout the enormous construction site, where about 1,800 workers have been tasked to keep the project on schedule and on budget.
"It's a very busy place," Williams said.
So far, with about 700 days to go until the first phase's 2020 opening, the re-design has been tracking on schedule and on budget, according to Williams.
"The project is going really well," he said.
To date, the airport has awarded $1.5 billion in trade contracts, with about $1 billion going to Utah-based contractors, Williams said.
The first phase — the southwest side of Concourse A — will have 25 gates and will stretch about the size of six football fields, Williams said. The east side of the concourse, which will require demolition of some existing airport facilities, will add another 22 gates to equal a staggering length of 12 football fields.
"We're building our new house on top of our old house," he said, describing how the final phases of the project — not scheduled for completion until 2025 — will be challenging, with an airport tasked with continuing operations all while tearing down and rebuilding simultaneously.
Though the new terminal building is still somewhat skeletal, miles and miles of electrical and piping have been installed.
Finished concrete walls reveal the general layout of the enormous building, with towering ceilings and endless walkways, where many moving walkways will help travelers make their way from gate to gate, Williams said.
Glass has already been installed for a wall of windows that will give travelers a sweeping view of the runways and the Wasatch Mountains from an area that will be called "the Canyon," Williams said.
The Canyon will be a plaza area with concessions and a food court, where patrons can relax while watching planes land and take off. It will also feature a massive art installation called "the Wave," which will run along the "central spine" of the entire terminal building, he said.
Viewers can take a virtual tour of the future airport at the new airport's website, where renderings show the Wave's changing colors.
The terminal will also include a special "meet and greet" area, meant to accommodate crowds waiting for missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints returning home.
The space will hold up to about 400 people, Williams said, and will feature a fireplace area, a concession area and glass windows so crowds can see travelers as they arrive.
Currently, the Salt Lake airport operates with 71 gates. But at completion, the new airport will have 78 gates, all with jet bridges, and allows for future expansion.