Denver airport says it’s time to build long-delayed 7th runway

Denver International Airport officials have talked about building a 7th runway for more than a decade. Now they’re ready to pull the trigger — but planes won’t begin landing and taking off on it for nearly eight years.

That’s how long DIA says it likely will take to plan, design and build a new runway, with completion estimated in late 2028.

And the project won’t be cheap: A summary document circulated among city and civic leaders in recent weeks estimates the price tag at nearly $1.2 billion, a figure on par with other commercial runways built or planned elsewhere of late.

DIA says it anticipates “significant federal investment” to cover a good chunk of the runway, new taxiways and other work needed. It will take years of planning and a federal environmental study, along with approval by the Federal Aviation Administration and city officials, before DIA can break ground.

By the end of January, DIA says it will start the bid process for three early contracts, worth a combined $28 million to $38 million, for program management, design and environmental review.

A new runway is about as complex to build as an urban freeway, even when DIA already has all the land it will ever need within its 53-square-mile footprint. Its original plans sketched out up to 12 eventual runways.

Before the pandemic sent passenger traffic plummeting, DIA recorded years of record growth. Its latest projections forecast that pre-pandemic traffic levels will grow by more than a third by 2030, to 94 million passengers a year.

Already underway are a terminal renovation and additions of dozens of gates to the concourses. Officials have talked about the coming need for another runway almost since the sixth one — a 16,000-foot behemoth for international flights — opened in 2003. But it was put off for years while DIA prioritized other expansion projects.

CEO Kim Day wrote in a letter accompanying the recent project summary that “while we are in the midst of the downturn that has come with this pandemic, DEN expects to see a rebound and significant growth in the next few years.

“We have long-term leases with our two largest carriers, and they are both optimistic about their future here in Denver and expanding their operations here,” she said about United and Southwest airlines.

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