Denver International Airport balks at $22M cost of Santiago Calatrava "signature" bridge

Dramatic statements don't come cheap, but what Denver needs may be less drama. After spending upwards of $40 million in the past few years imagining -- make that "visioning" -- a great makeover, DIA manager Kim Day has decided the city really can't afford the "signature" designer bridge proposed by her favorite architect, Santiago Calatrava.

The bridge, which would carry commuter-rail passengers traveling from downtown to the airport or back and span Peña Boulevard, would have been the "gateway" statement of a billion-dollar slew of improvements to Denver International Airport, including a new hotel, train station and plaza at the south end of the existing terminal. But it quickly became a magnet of controversy, thanks in part to Calatrava's free-spending reputation ("Calatrava is Spanish for 'Over Budget,'" as one wag has observed) and a slippery price tag that went up, up, up. At one point, the bridge was estimated at more than $60 million -- six times what RTD recently spent on a stylishly functional elevated rail bridge across the Sixth Avenue freeway.

Day's people figured that the bridge could be had for a "mere" $22 million, with RTD chipping in about a third of that. But apparently the two agencies weren't talking the same language. When it turned out that RTD was willing to contribute only about $1.4 million for the bridge itself, the plan was scrapped.

Planners are still seeking to make some sort of fancy statement with the bridge, but it's not clear right now what that will be or how much it will cost. DIA has already slashed a floor from the proposed hotel and trimmed some froufrou from the grandiose plaza-and-station scheme, on the theory that the changes will be scarcely noticeable to the average passenger. (Makes you wonder how much of the billion-dollar improvement package is truly essential, doesn't it?)

"From the day we announced the South Terminal Redevelopment Program, we've pledged only to move forward with projects that make good financial sense," Day said in a statement announcing the bridge redo.

She made a similar pledge in the course of our interview for my feature "DIA Dreams" last year. What Day seems to be discovering as she settles into the job is that running DIA requires a body to think big and lean at the same time.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Denver International Airport's fixation with Santiago Calatrava rail station: The flighty math."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

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