Infrastructure is a big word, and it has generated a heated and overwrought debate in Congress about what it means and how we should pay for fixing America.
It took a while, but this month Congress finally passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which includes $25 billion for airports. Now comes the hard work of getting the most out of those funds for so many deserving projects around the country.
But if you live in Pittsburgh, or happen to be passing through Pittsburgh International Airport, you can see what infrastructure looks like up close – as in right outside our windows – and why it matters so much for our country.
What’s happening here is a study in infrastructure innovation writ large, and a lesson in why we all should think bigger. We’re building the nation’s first new airport terminal designed and constructed in the post-COVID world, but that’s just the beginning of the story. The transformational impact of this project reaches far beyond our runways – starting with an economic impact of $1.66 billion.
What sometimes may get lost in the debate over what constitutes infrastructure is how projects like ours have a ripple effect across a region, opening up jobs and opportunities for people and communities.
Fixing America’s critical transportation (including airports), communication, water and electrical systems is vital to economic advancement. And building infrastructure presents an opportunity to make lasting changes that will address existing inequities in the labor market by providing access, training and supportive resources to local residents who want to pursue good-paying jobs and careers in construction or other skilled trades.
The employment opportunities in our region, viewed through the lens of equal access, span the full spectrum of industries coming together for this project: construction, steel, tech, logistics, sustainable energy and a broad array of support services, including childcare and increased transit options, which will be a part of the project. That will serve Pittsburgh not just for the next four years but for decades beyond.
If you believe infrastructure is about building things, we’ve got enough steel and concrete – and the estimated 5,500 jobs that work will create – to please even the strictest of infrastructure purists. Not to mention that many of the materials for this project are being sourced locally.
This is Pittsburgh’s future, built by Pittsburgh. One of the largest and best-regarded contractors in the region is overseeing our steel and concrete contracts, the largest portions of the project. And we’re preparing the steel – about 16,000 tons of it – just down the road in Ambridge, Pa.
But we’re also extending our reach to the world. The new, 700,000-square foot terminal will reflect a modern, thriving Pittsburgh with a proper focus on public health and safety the public demands.
In July, we went live with a first-of-its-kind airport microgrid fueling our entire campus with solar power and responsible natural gas, reducing our footprint, lowering our cost of energy and increasing our resiliency as one of the most site-hardened airports in the world. Additionally, the new terminal will be built to LEED Silver specifications or beyond. During construction, a minimum of 75 percent of waste generated will be recycled, including concrete from existing airfield ramps that will be reused for new roads.
There is tremendous confidence in this project from officials of both parties. Our airline partners, after experiencing the worst year in aviation history, have endorsed the new terminal in the most meaningful of ways – by agreeing to pay for it. And despite the continued uncertainty in the economy, the bond rating agencies delivered straight A’s to our financing plan.
Infrastructure is a very big word indeed, and if our project is any guide, it encompasses all that a community or region or nation needs: good jobs, better and smarter buildings, a more livable environment and the technology that makes our lives, and the lives of our children, better.
When we started this project a few years ago, we thought we were rebuilding our airport as a way to meet the needs of our thriving market. Today, after all the country has been through, we’re looking at it as a way to propel our community to the next level.
There are thousands of projects around the country like ours, in cities and rural areas, in blue states and red, that will bring economic development, jobs, and the shared sense that their communities are moving forward. Many of those efforts will now get the support they need from this legislation.
As for us, we’ve broken ground and are already laying the foundation for our future.
Christina Cassotis is CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport.