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Mexico Vote Puts Partially-Built “Airport of the Future” on Hold

By Michelle Baran

Nov 2, 2018

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A rendering of the new international airport that is under construction outside of Mexico City

Courtesy of FR-EE

A rendering of the new international airport that is under construction outside of Mexico City

Following a referendum vote this week, Mexico’s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he will uphold voters’ decision to halt construction of Mexico City’s massive international airport project.

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The ambitious project was going to revolutionize airport design, according to FR-EE and Foster + Partners, the architecture and design firms that won the contract in 2014 to build the strikingly modern international hub. It was also going to provide a much-needed passenger capacity boost for the city. But now, midway through construction, Mexico City’s multi-billion-dollar airport is on hold following an unprecedented move by the Mexican government to have a referendum vote on whether the building of the state-of-the-art facility should move forward.

“The decision taken by the citizens is democratic, rational and efficient,” Mexico’s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated on Monday following the vote, the Associated Press reported. “The people decided.”

With an estimated completion date of 2020, the project was already well underway. A video posted by FR-EE a year ago showed how far along construction already was then. And another posted by Foster + Partners elicited the ambitious scale and design of the terminals, with their massive serpentine ceilings enclosed in a continuous gridshell of windows.

The sprawling complex, nearly 8 million square feet, which was being built in Texcoco, 15 miles outside of Mexico City, was expected to see some 66 million international passengers travel through its terminals annually—with plans to grow it further over time. It was being designed to be one of the largest and most sustainable airports in the world, according to FR-EE.

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But the “airport of the future” as the project’s architects had deemed it, became a political touchpoint during Mexico’s presidential elections earlier this year, when Lopez Obrador cited it as a symbol of overspending and corruption. After winning, he said he would put the issue to a vote.

That vote took place between October 25 and 28, allowing Mexican citizens to weigh in on the large-scale public-private project. But according to news reports, only a little more than 1 million people actually voted in the referendum, or just over 1 percent of Mexico’s registered voters, putting into question how valid the vote actually was. There are also further questions about the design and construction contracts that were already in place, the money and investments that have gone into the project, and what to do with the extensive work that has been done on the site.

The Associated Press reported that Lopez Obrador has proposed using the site as a “a big sports and ecological center for Mexico City.” The president-elect, who takes office on December 1, has also proposed that in lieu of the new international airport, two commercial runways be added to a military air base in Santa Lucia, about 28 miles outside of Mexico City.

Zachary Rabinor, CEO of luxury tailor-made vacation provider Journey Mexico, said he’s still optimistic, however, that the building of the modern international hub will go forth.

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“The political posturing is classic of a newly elected leader who aims to undo the most important projects of their predecessors,” said Rabinor. “I’m hopeful and confident that the project will proceed with the support of Mexico’s varied shareholders and general public who all stand to gain from this important infrastructure investment.”

The ambitious new airport was expected to handle some 66 million passengers annually.

Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) threw strong support behind construction of the new international airport, which was intended to ultimately replace the existing Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City.

“The current airport is bursting at the seams. It serves 47 million passengers, almost 50 percent over its design capacity of 32 million. A new airport is vital,” Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice president for the Americas, said in a statement in April.

If the new airport is not built, IATA estimated that that could mean 20 million fewer passengers per year by 2035, a negative impact of up to $20 billion in future GDP contribution, and a loss of up to 200,000 potential jobs supported by aviation through 2035 for Mexico.

“With its enormous local population, strong attractions for business and tourism, and geographic advantages, Mexico City has the ability to play a much bigger role on the world stage. But for that to happen, aviation infrastructure needs to be adequate and affordable, which is why it is absolutely vital that the new Mexico City airport is built as planned,” stated Cerda.

>>Next: The Surprising Reason You Should Visit Mexico City in the Spring

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