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The Jaco Report, Ep. 13: Airport privatization study is flawed, transportation infrastructure expert says

One of the nation’s leading experts in transportation infrastructure says the current St. Louis study on potentially privatizing Lambert International Airport is flawed. He thinks that whether Lambert is privatized or remains a city property, the airport needs to be re-built from scratch to become a viable 21stcentury facility.

Professor Ray Mundy, emeritus director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, appeared on The Jaco Report and said that the current terminal layout, concourses, gates, and parking infrastructure are “well past” their functional lifespans, and need to be demolished, re-designed, and re-built.

“Structurally, it’s reached the end of its lifetime. But also, as you look around at some of the other airports, you see that ours is not a pleasant place to be, an enjoyable place,” Dr. Mundy said.  “If we want to do that and make it more attractive to airlines and people to use it, and maybe even regain it a hub status, then a re-build is necessary.”

The only similar US project currently underway—the demolition and re-building of New York’s LaGuardia Airport—is projected to cost $4 billion, and may take a decade to complete. New terminals, amenities, concourses, gates, shopping areas, and parking are necessary, said Dr. Mundy, to attract “flow-through” flights—those where passengers change planes in St. Louis.

Dr. Mundy also said any public vote on privatization should only be held after an accurate study is complete, and he criticized the current effort as too political and secretive.

“It’s that the city needs to wait to take a look at it, and then make the plans public, and then decide whether they want to have a public vote,” Dr. Mundy said. “But the city basically needs to make sure they have the people who are looking at those bids being somewhat open-minded and non-political.”

Twentieth Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, a critic of privatization, also appeared on The Jaco Report, and agreed that the process needs to be more transparent. She said she favors a public vote, and also advises scrapping the entire study.

“There was a lack of public dialogue and discourse about the proposal from the very beginning,” Spencer said. “And that’s why I’ve been pushing for a public vote, to really promote the public dialogue, and to increase transparency in the process.”

Spencer said she thinks any privatization study should be turned over to experts and academics, preferably from outside St. Louis, who have no financial interest in what decision is made. The current consultants will not be paid by the city unless the airport is privatized.

“That consultancy is only paid in the event that we privatize our airport,” she said.  “And so, the answer to the question that we’re seeking is tainted by way of how we’ve asked it. Therein lies a huge problem with the process that will taint the answers we get.”

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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