SAN FRANCISCO -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Northern California on Monday to break ground on a new air traffic control tower at San Francisco International Airport, a structure that is being praised as much for its sleek design as its intended purpose of reducing flight delays.
While most airports have control towers that are located away from passenger terminals, SFO is surrounded on three sides by the waters of San Francisco Bay, putting space at a premium. Instead, the new 221-foot-tall tower will fill a tight gap between two terminals and resemble a torch instead of the traditional lollipop-shape of other air traffic control towers.
The base will replace a crosswalk and feature coffee shops, art displays and other public amenities.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful design, and I think we'll all be proud of it," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said at the ground-breaking ceremony Monday.
The federal government authorized the replacement tower because the existing one, commissioned in 1984, no longer meets California seismic safety standards for withstanding earthquakes, airport spokesman Michael McCarron said. With an anticipated completion date of 2015, the project is expected to cost $102 million, with the Federal Aviation Administration paying almost $70 million and the airport the rest.
The new tower will be equipped with the latest communications and navigation technology and have an unobstructed view of the runways that makes controlling traffic easier, acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta said. If the project finishes successfully, travelers will "have a much higher likelihood of getting to (their) destination on time," Huerta said.
The control tower is the latest in a series of developing public transportation infrastructure projects in the Bay Area, including the construction of a subway stop at Union Square and the approval of funds for a California high speed rail system that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles.