Everyone hates getting stuck at the airport.
It’s crowded, the seats aren’t comfy, you can never find an outlet and everything is overpriced.
But maybe not at the Portland International Airport.
“Being stuck somewhere is not anybody’s favorite part of traveling, but if I’m gonna get stuck in any airport, I’d love it to be PDX,” says Kama Simonds, media relations manager at Portland International Airport.
The airport is a reflection of the region. Shops and restaurants are local favorites with street pricing, so it feels like you’re experiencing the real Pacific Northwest.
Even with the construction, limited pre-security shops and the removal of the post-security terminal connector, brought about by the $2 billion PDX Next remodel project, the airport retains its appeal, especially with the remodeled Concourse B and extended Concourse E.
Three million board feet of lumber later, and the main terminal’s new 392,000-square-foot, curved roof is completed and ready to be moved from the roof fabrication yard, three-quarters of a mile down the tarmac to the main terminal.
“I’m just so happy that we’re talking and we’re looking up and we’re not looking down at that carpet,” Simonds said.
“The campaign we have going now at the roof is ‘Looking Up’ because we think … that there will be a lot of people who do exactly that, look up and go ‘Whoa,’ ” Simonds added.
The roof can be separated into 25 different sections. The first section will be moved into place at the end of August; the entire roof is scheduled to be in place by the end of the year.
“It’s constructed with sprinkler systems, (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), electricity,” Simonds said. “If you were able to plug it in, you would be able to flip the light switches on, that’s how stitched together it is.”
Building off the airport’s local theme, 95 percent of the steel used in the new roof comes from within 25 miles, and all the wood comes from within 300 miles of the airport, primarily from small family farms, tribal farms and sustainably managed forests.
Simonds said that including wood from tribal forests is meaningful to Native American tribes.
“To have that connection of pride to be in the airport to come in and say to grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, neighbors that this wood came from our tribe’s forest, the tribe’s spokespeople have told us that that’s a very, very powerful element and makes that much more enjoyable,” said Simonds.
When completed, there will be signs describing which sections of the roof came from which tribal forests.
The roof will be 55 feet off the ground when in place, so more than 11,000 sound panels were installed to minimize echo.
The main terminal
The first things you notice when you walk into PDX nowadays are the giant faux sticky notes informing flyers of ongoing construction and the work being done on the ceiling.
“A lot of this work is making sure that we are at the latest and greatest with regard to code, particularly seismic code,” Simonds explained.
“The (new) roof has base isolation, which means that in an earthquake, the roof is a unique, independent standalone structure,” she added.
With the completion of the roof on track for the end of the year, 2023 will be spent working on the inside of the building.
Open air and active construction replace the area where Powell’s Books and the food court used to be, as the main terminal is extended 150 feet.
Construction was timed with the end of many of the leases of the pre-security businesses. Many of the shops whose leases weren’t up were able to relocate to a post-security location, a silver lining because most shopping happens post-security, according to Simonds.
The lack of pre-security shops and restaurants is only temporary, however; they will return when the main terminal reopens in 2025.
What happened to the post-security hallway?
The old post-security hallway connecting Concourses A, B and C with Concourses D and E now makes up half of the two temporary hallways that bypass construction and connect the post-security hubs at each end of the airport to Concourse C and D, respectively.
“We chopped it in half,” Simonds said. “We put it on these big transporters and we moved it around the outside of the building.
“You want to talk Pacific Northwest? We recycled the building.”
The hallway was moved overnight and it will remain like that until 2024.
Gone is the old dark and dingy Concourse A, and in its place is an extended Concourse B with high ceilings, natural light, giant windows, new restrooms, electrical sockets in every seat and Good Coffee, with Screen Door opening soon.
Located next to Capers Cafe and Stumptown coffee, Concourse B used to just be a handful of gates before an escalator brought you down to Concourse A.
“It was dark, had low ceilings, crowded, cramped,” Simonds said of Concourse A. “People kind of loved it a little bit because it was so funky, but it was so different from any other part of our airport.”
It was one of the first places to undergo construction in late 2019. It reopened in December 2021.
Horizon and Alaska’s local flights, which used to primarily depart from Concourse A, now use the gates on Concourse B.
Concourse C, where the rest of Alaska’s flights depart, remains mostly the same, with the exception of the walkway to bypass construction.
Concourse E, where Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are housed, was extended, adding seven more gates and eight stores and restaurants, including Juliet, a women-in-aviation-themed bar.
“Construction on (Concourse E) was incredibly easy because there was no impact whatsoever,” said Simonds.
“You didn’t have to move any airlines out of the way, you didn’t have to move any concessions, any tenants, any storage, nothing,” she added.
Like Concourse B, each chair has an electrical socket, plenty of natural light and art from local artists.
“If designers in the Pacific Northwest know one thing, they know how important it is to bring natural light into spaces because so much of the year is so gray here, so the more natural light we can have, the better,” she said.
Rental cars are now onsite, so you don’t have to take a shuttle to pick one up, and 2,225 new parking spaces have opened.
A new ride-share pickup center will open in 2023, easing congestion, a second MAX light rail track will be completed in 2024 and there will be improvements to cycling paths.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.