Airport director walks out of interview after questions on lagging billion-dollar project

HOUSTON – It’s been a very long week for Houston Airport Aviation Director Mario Diaz.

Monday began with a critical memorandum from Houston Comptroller Chris Brown to city leadership. The city’s financial watchdog is concerned over the approximately $85 million spent on the International Terminal Redevelopment Program at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Brown telling Channel 2 Investigates: “$84 million approximately that has been spent to date, of that about $11 million has been spent on actual construction."

On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner told Channel 2 Investigates, “I agree with the comptroller and his assessment."

Then, more than 24 hours later, Channel 2 Investigates reported on the costly project, the very little that has been built and the designs shunned by Turner when he came into office. The mayor, telling Channel 2 Investigates, “It didn't make any sense, under the old design. The design that existed when I came in to build this terminal, so to speak."

After weeks of evading our cameras, Diaz briefly met to answer questions on Friday following his state of the airport address in downtown Houston.

When asked about the program that was launched in 2014 at $700 million to $900 million, and now sits at a budget of $1.2 billion after soaring to $1.7 billion, Diaz said, “You're mixing apple and oranges. The project that was approved for $700 to $800 million Terminal D, it never included the international and we made that point.”

However, in a 2014 press release, Diaz and his team clearly announced city council approving $700 million to $900 million for a new international terminal that would replace the Mickey Leland International Terminal Building.

Turner’s reaction when he first examined the architectural plan, “It didn't make any sense, under the old design."

On Wednesday, Turner criticized the original designs stating, “It couldn't handle many of the big planes, the big body planes."

However, Diaz disagrees with his boss, Turner, telling Channel 2 Investigates as he walked out of our brief interview, ”The plans have always had that capability."

The plan Diaz is now pushing has 13 wide-body gates, down from the original 15 listed in 2014.

Following Diaz’s walkout of our very brief interview, Channel 2 Investigates asked his team for a proper sit-down interview for early next week.

Diaz’s team has yet to respond.

On Monday, Channel 2 Investigates reached out to Director Diaz for response to the lawsuit. His communications team did not respond to our multiple inquiries for comment from Diaz.