Sky Harbor International Airport is planning upgrades to its runway space with a new taxiway overpass backed by federal funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year.

The project is funded in part through the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed in November, which will allocate $194 million to these improvements at Sky Harbor, one of the busiest airports in the country.

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The project has an estimated price tag of $260 million. The rest will be paid by Passenger Facilities Charges, which are $4.50 fees from ticket purchases that Sky Harbor collects from every eligible passenger who goes through the airport. Work is expected to begin next year; a completion timetable has not been released.

The 2,000-foot-long taxiway will pass over roads between terminals and connect the north and south airfields, which are bisected by airport roads and terminals. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said the goal of the overpass is to allow traffic on runways to flow more smoothly so planes don’t get stuck on the tarmac. She also said the increased tarmac space will help the airport adapt more easily to inclement weather.

Mayor Kate Gallego and state Rep. Reginald Bolding attend a press conference at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Oct. 4, 2022, to celebrate the $194 million federal investment for a new taxiway overpass under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (Photo by Sophie Oppfelt/Cronkite News)

“Your planes are likely to take off more quickly, and you’ll spend less time on the tarmac both landing and taking off,” she said in a news conference Tuesday at the airport. “When we have tough storms, like the one we did last night, having a bigger, better tarmac will allow us to adapt and have more ability to keep planes flying. This is a very exciting project for us.”

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz.,said the airport’s location just 5 miles from downtown Phoenix is its biggest plus, but it also makes expansion difficult.

“One of the very best qualities and most significant competitive advantages of Sky Harbor is that it’s right at the very center of our region right next to downtown, but that also means that land is a little bit scarce,” he said at the news conference. “Instead of growing larger, we have to grow smarter.”

U.S. infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu said the project will create about 3,000 temporary jobs, many of which will be union carpenters, and that union workers hit “every mark” that the infrastructure law requires.

“The funding from this law is a new taxiway right next to us, built by union carpenters to support our community and the travelers that come in and out of this airport every day,” said Fabian Sandez of the Carpenters Local 1912. “This project will bring good paying jobs, wages and benefits to members and their families.”

The first portion of federal funding – $5.3 million – has gone to preliminary planning. Construction is expected to begin in 2023. A completion timeline and potential impact on travelers are unknown.

Sky Harbor was the ninth busiest airport for travelers in the U.S. in 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It was also the eighth in the world in combined takeoffs and landings in the same year, according to the Airports Council InternationalSky Harbor’s website says it has experienced a 20% increase in total passengers from August 2021 to August 2022.

Gallego called the airport the “economic engine” of the city and said continuing investments are needed.

Potential future Sky Harbor projects include expanding one of the three terminals and expanding the PHX SkyTrain to the rental car center more than a mile away.

“With traffic quickly rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, and nearly $6 billion of unmet infrastructure needs at Sky Harbor alone,” Gallego said, “many more improvements are necessary to keep up with our passenger growth and demand.”


Story by Shane Brennan, Cronkite News