Article by: Frances McMorris

For the full story visit: Tampa Bay Business Journal

One day after arriving at Port Tampa Bay, 10 of the 12 SkyConnect trains were lifted onto the guideway at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday.

With each car weighing 34,200 pounds, the new 1.4-mile, $417 million automated people mover system known as SkyConnect moves closer to completion.

More than 6,900 workers have been part of building SkyConnect and the consolidated rental car center since construction began in November 2014. The guideway structure was finished earlier this year.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. built the SkyConnect cars at their factory in Mihara, Japan — a process that took about 13 months. Each train car cost approximately $1.9 million and is designed to last 25 years. The cars’ exteriors feature a different bird commonly found in the Tampa Bay region.

The cars then had a monthlong sea voyage, arriving Monday at Port Tampa Bay.

Now that the cars have been delivered to TIA, they will go through approximately six months of testing, with the goal of opening the system to the public early next year.

Once in place, the SkyConnect trip from the main terminal to the rental car center will take about five minutes, including a stop at the economy parking garage. Once at the rental car center, passengers will be greeted by 16 different rental car brands — double what the airport currently offers. The facility will also include kiosks for obtaining boarding passes and checking bags.

SkyConnect and the new rental car center are part of Phase 1 of TPA’s Master Plan expansion, which also includes the addition of 69 new shops and restaurants.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority recently approved plans to move forward with the $543 million Phase 2 of TIA’s ambitious expansion plan. Among the many projects under Phase 2, the airport plans to create the Gateway Development Area, which costs more than $121.7 million and will include new commercial space such as hotels, offices retail outlets. Phase 2 also includes new passenger pickup and drop-off curbsides with express lanes for travelers who aren’t checking bags. Additionally, Phase 3 of the master plan features a 16-gate airside.