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Mayor insists new IAH terminal plan with fewer wide-body gates can accommodate more of those planes

The entrance to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The entrance to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. (KPRC2)

HOUSTON – On multiple occasions last week, Mayor Sylvester Turner made it clear he was not a fan of the original plans for the new international terminal at Bush Intercontinental Airport, saying, “It didn't make any sense, under the old design. The design that existed when I came in. I did not have a great deal of confidence in what was before me when I came in."

Noting the original plans lacked space, Turner said, “It couldn't handle many of the big planes, the big-body planes."

However, a 2014 Houston Airport System press release says just the opposite. It claims the new terminal would have 15 gates capable of handling wide-body aircraft. The original cost for the new terminal was listed in the final sentence as being “somewhere between $700 million to $900 million dollars.”

On Dec. 12, Turned said, “It didn't any make any sense to spend a lot of money, let's say $700 (million), 800 million, and you are still not able to handle the big-body planes that were coming into the airport."

Airport System Director, Mario Diaz, disagrees with his boss. “The plans have always had that capability," Diaz said as he walked away from an interview with Channel 2 Investigates Friday.

However, as the project lags with only $11 million spent on construction, according to the city controller, it's intriguing to look back at a hearing from April 2014.

That's when Diaz touted his experience before the City Council's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, saying, “We know how to do this."

Council members like Dave Martin had questions over the precise budget, telling Diaz, “You've done a great job of dancing around that cost estimate question."

However, Diaz never presented an actual fixed number on the terminal's cost. At one point telling council member Michael Kubosh, “I don't want to anchor anyone by saying … because, you know, we may come back and it may be $700 (million) to $900 million dollars and I don't want anyone to be suddenly shocked, to say, 'Wait a minute you said $1.5 (billion) and now its $700 (million) to $900 million.'"

Approximately a minute later, council member Ellen Cohen said, “If it went from $1.2 billion to $700 million, I think we would all be thrilled.”

Diaz’s response? “OK.”

That is exactly what happened less than two months later, as Diaz’s team announced the City Council’s approval of a new international terminal at a cost somewhere between $700 million and $900 million.

As Channel 2 Investigates reported last week, more than four years later, the project has resulted in $84 million spent - $17 million of it on designs - and the only construction is a building to manage the project.

When questioned about this, Turner said, “Now is the time when we need to start constructing, start building a better design, that can handle more big-body planes."

Turner also said, “This is a sound plan that will make the Houston Intercontinental Airport much more competitive. We can handle more big-body planes."

However, this is where the mayor's reset of the plans falls short. The design plan now being pushed by Diaz actually has fewer wide-body gates than the original, yet the project's price tag has soared from the original $700 to $900 million to $1.2 billion.