sfo03.jpgU.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was at San Francisco International Airport today to help break ground on a new state-of-the-art air traffic control tower designed to increase safety and decrease delays when it begins operating in 2015.

The $102-million control tower will be 221 feet tall–about 50 feet higher than the current tower at SFO–giving it unobstructed 360-degree views of the runways and airfield, airport director John Martin said.

The tower will be built to withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake and adhere to LEEDs Gold certified standards, boasting solar panels, energy efficient operating equipment, and even a charging station for electric vehicles.

The three-year project is expected to create as many as 600 jobs, the majority of which will be in construction.

Lahood praised the project as an example of “thinking big and building big” and said the new tower will modernize the airport for the next generation.

“The new tower will help us maintain a safe air transportation system for the flying public and provide economic benefits for the future,” he said.

Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Michael Huerta agreed, calling the new tower an important investment in the economy of the region by expanding the ability of SFO to move passengers and cargo through the Bay Area safely and efficiently.

“This is a very small facility, but they move a lot of traffic in and out of here very, very safely,” Huerta said. “This new state-of-the-art tower will ensure that we continue to do that.”

In 2011, SFO was the nation’s 15th busiest airport, handling about 404,000 takeoffs and landings, according to the FAA.

Huerta said the larger, taller tower will represent the cutting edge of modern avionics and be a much more efficient air traffic control system.

“We need to be able to handle more travelers and more traffic without delays,” he said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said he sported a tie with an image of the Golden Gate Bridge on it to represent the importance of investing in infrastructure projects for future generations.

“I wore my lucky tie,” Lee said. “I’m excited to get this rolling.”

LaHood, Lee, Huerta and Martin grabbed four ceremonial shovels and scooped a couple loads of dirt onto pile to commemorate the beginning of construction, which is expected to last about two years.

The FAA will then take an additional year to install the most modern air traffic control technology and ensure that it is functioning properly, Huerta said.

The tower is expected to begin operating in late 2015.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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