Aug 17, 2023 - News

Denver's airport infrastructure "not built to withstand" record traffic, officials say

Travelers wait at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport in 2022. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

If you've recently missed your flight after getting stuck in a snaking security line at Denver International Airport, join the club.

What's happening: Snafus like this are becoming more frequent for travelers as DIA continues to set new passenger traffic records.

  • The airport — which sits roughly in the center of the country, serving as a hub for connecting flights — currently ranks as third-busiest in North America and seventh-busiest in the world, CEO Phil Washington said Wednesday.

Driving the news: DIA recorded 20 instances in June in which lines looped past the checkpoint areas — more than every other airport in the country that month, 9News reports.

  • The long lines are having increasingly significant ripple effects.
  • Southwest Airlines had to delay multiple flights as well to accommodate DIA travelers waiting to get through security — spurring a written complaint from Southwest's ground operations director.

What they're saying: "The airport wasn't built to withstand as many passengers as we're seeing," DIA spokesperson Stephanie Figueroa told 9News.

Of note: The airport is also spending $1.5 million on a reservation program that allows passengers to save time at security checkpoints.

What else: Crowding isn't the only major growing pain at DIA. An influx in vehicle traffic is also causing congestion problems.

  • Traffic on Peña Boulevard — the airport's original access road — has increased 80% since the road was built more than three decades ago.

State of play: Denver airport and city leaders are studying possible ways to ease traffic, including widening the boulevard, per the Denver Post.

  • The issue is driving much debate, including from transit advocates who prefer improving and expanding service on the Regional Transportation District's A-Line, which runs from downtown Denver to the airport.
  • DIA's CEO told Denverite on Wednesday that he supports prioritizing transit plans, but added that Peña should also be expanded in a "very responsible way."

What to watch: The Peña plan could come down to Mayor Mike Johnston. He received a petition last week from the Denver Bicycle Lobby, asking he withdraw a city request for $5 million in federal funds for the road and instead funnel it into a Broadway bike lane extension.

  • Before taking a position, Johnston is "waiting to assess the study results," expected to be released in a master plan early next year, spokesperson Jordan Fuja told the Post.

Between the lines: Johnston told CPR on the campaign trail that widening Peña Boulevard was not the "best immediate answer. I think what we want to do instead is look at how we increase ridership on public transit out there," he said.

The big picture: Growth challenges are sure to continue. DIA's passenger traffic is expected to soar to 100 million within the next decade, and more than 120 million by 2045, according to Federal Aviation Administration projections.

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