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Inside DIA's massive transformation: new gates, smoother security

DIA is going through some changes!
Credit: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
Hundreds of flyers wait in TSA security lines in Denver International Airport's Great Hall. Airport managers have launched a major renovation of the hall, hoping to speed up security screenings and improve the passenger experience.

DENVER – Travelers passing through Denver International Airport face several years of construction as authorities revamp the terminal building and gates to provide better security screening and add capacity for flyers.

Denver, the nation’s fifth-busiest airport, served more than 61 million passengers last year, and managers say the newly launched renovations will up its capacity to 80 million. The first and most obvious renovations will be to the “Great Hall,” the iconic white tented main terminal that evokes Colorado’s snow-capped peaks and -- when first opened --offered a calm, peaceful experience for departing passengers.

Credit: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
A sign alerts travelers to a closure at Denver International Airport in advance of the Great Hall renovation project.

Simultaneously, the airport is adding 39 new gates.

“When the airport opened in 1995, the TSA didn’t exist and passenger expectations of an airport were vastly different,” airport CEO Kim Day said in announcing the renovations. “Today, the Great Hall is well above its design capacity of 50 million passengers and is filled with noisy passenger screening operations and has no space in which to accommodate growth. The Great Hall project will reconfigure and better utilize the existing space in the terminal to create a safer, more efficient and better travel experience while returning the Great Hall to its original purpose of a travelers’ oasis.”

Denver, one of the nation’s newest airports, opened in 1995 to great fanfare and accolades for its spacious terminal building filled with natural light and public art. But modifications driven by TSA-run security has created a cacophonous circus-like atmosphere as thousands of passengers wait to take off their shoes and remove liquids from their carry-on bags. By late 2020, the airport will feature automated security lines of the kind used by airports in Atlanta and London. Officials say those automated lines are generally more efficient, in part because they free up TSA agents to screen passengers instead of moving plastic bins around.

The construction now underway will bring in 10 new shops and restaurants to the Great Hall by May 2019. Once complete, the airport officials say the renovations will help Denver better serve the majority of passengers want to pass through security before they pause for a meal or coffee.

Credit: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
Passengers wait in a security line at Denver International Airport on July 16, 2018, near a sign alerting travelers to planned terminal renovations.

A public-private partnership is managing the Great Hall renovation, which has a price tag of up to $770 million, including a significant contingency fund created to pay for any unexpected TSA or airline-required changes based on new technology. Also included in the renovation is an expanded international arrivals area, reflecting the airport’s increasing schedule of non-stop flights connecting it to destinations in places like Mexico, Europe and Asia.

The private company helping with the renovations recently completed renovations to London Heathrow’s Terminals 2 and 5.

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