LAS VEGAS -- McCarran International Airport intends to undergo a major expansion over the next decade to handle a growing number of passengers flying to Las Vegas.
The country's seventh-busiest airport plans to build an additional 34 new gates, including a new terminal, and install high-tech baggage screening equipment for about $1.25 billion.
Airport officials said McCarran must grow if it wants to serve the increasing number of people who travel to Las Vegas annually. Last year, the airport handled 35.2 million people. In 2015, McCarran expects to accommodate 55.6 million passengers.
The airport is a vital link to the outside world and its cash, said Randy Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation.
The airport funnels about $25 billion to the Las Vegas Valley each year, and keeping up with the area's growth is a constant challenge, he said.
"The hotels have created the demand," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "And we never want anyone to say the reason they couldn't grow, hotel rooms couldn't be built or the (businesses) already here can't be successful was because the airport was a constraining factor."
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, about half of this year's southern Nevada visitors will arrive by plane.
To handle the area's anticipated air traffic increase, the Clark County Commission in 2000 approved a master plan for long-term capital improvements at McCarran and other local airports.
While new construction was halted temporarily in fall 2001, Walker said work on several projects will create major changes at county aviation facilities.
The first project will add a 10-gate northeast wing to McCarran's D-gates concourse, Walker said. Work on the addition should begin in late January and will require about two years to complete.
When the D-gates' third wing nears its capacity, work would begin on Terminal 3. That project, which would add 14 new gates, tentatively is slated to open in summer 2008.
Terminal 3 would be followed by the 10-gate northwest wing of the D-gates concourse, the final passenger concourse to be built at McCarran, Walker said.
In addition, the department is working with representatives from several rental car companies to determine the need for a proposed consolidated rental car facility.
Walker also said McCarran will be able to house up to 60 explosive detection devices with space freed up thanks to the new buildings. That should ease security delays at the airport in the future.