Port of Seattle Commission adopts Sea-Tac International Airport's Master Plan Update, including a third runway and enhanced noise criteria, on August 1, 1996.

  • By Paula Becker (with research by Daryl McClary and Walt Crowley)
  • Posted 3/11/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4206
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On August 1, 1996, the Port of Seattle passes Resolution 3212 adopting the Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport’s Master Plan Update (MPU) and the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Resolution A-96-02 noise criteria. These resolutions authorize detailed planning, property acquisition, and permit applications for construction of a third runway at Sea-Tac International Airport.

The idea of a third runway for Sea-Tac International Airport arose in 1988 when long-range planning studies predicted that the facility could reach its maximum efficient capacity by the year 2000. Eight years of further planning, studies, public comment, and controversy followed before the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Port concluded that construction of a third dependent runway at Sea-Tac was the only viable approach to meeting the region’s future air capacity needs.

Port Commissioner Patricia Davis told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “This is the single most important regional and statewide decision that this body has made in the last ten years that I’ve been here.” Commissioner Davis had defeated an anti-runway activist for re-election in 1993.

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Master Plan Update entailed an aggressive program of public education and public involvement, technical advisory panels, a unique “Sea-Tac University” program, a newsletter, and planning forums. This enormous effort was conducted between 1993 and 1997. The results served as a foundation for the Environmental Impact Statements prepared by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port of Seattle in 1996 and 1997.

The Puget Sound Regional Council’s previous adoption of Resolution A-96-02 amended the Regional Transportation Plan to include construction of an 8,500-foot runway on Sea-Tac International Airport’s western perimeter and more stringent noise standards for planes using the airport. The passage of Resolution 3212 also certified that the Port of Seattle Commission found that the 1996 Federal Aviation Authority/Port of Seattle’s Final Environmental Impact Statement satisfied the requirements of national and state Environmental Policy Acts.

The Port of Seattle Commission approved $8.1 million for the beginning of the property acquisition process, involving approximately 400 homes and additional businesses, and apartment buildings. The land to be acquired lay along the Airport’s western border in the City of SeaTac.

The Port created an Acquisition Communications Program to assist residents within the area of land needed for the new runway with property sales and relocation. The Acquisition Communications Program included a Hardship Committee made up of citizens and Port staff. Residents within the impacted areas could petition this Hardship Committee if their circumstances called for early acquisition of their properties.

A total of 35 public sessions concerning acquisition and relocation were held between September 1997 and November 1999. Residents also had the services of an impartial Ombudsman program during the acquisition process. In addition, the Airport Forum newsletter published regular updates and the Port gave regular briefings to update the public on the acquisition process.

The Port’s efforts did not satisfy several nearby cities and the Highline School District previously opposed to the new runway. Anti-third-runway organizations pursued administrative, legal, and public relations challenges to the project.

In May 2004, the State Supreme Court largely cleared the way for construction to resume, and on August 19, 2004, the Airport Communities Coalition dropped litigation, after having spent $15 million over 10 years campaigning and litigating against the third runway.

Construction resumed and the 8,500-foot runway was completed four years later for a total cost of just over $1 billion. It opened on November 20, 2008.


“Regional Air Capacity -- Public Involvement History,” Port of Seattle memorandum, July 29, 2002; “Detailed History of the Third Runway Planning Process,” Port of Seattle memorandum, October 3, 2002; “General Chronology Related to Regional Commercial Aviation Development in the Puget Sound Region,” Puget Sound Regional Council memorandum, May 9, 2002; “After Ten Years of Debate Port Votes To Build A Third Runway,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 1996; Larry Lange and Jeffrey M. Barker, "You Know That Third Runway? Sea-Tac's Really Getting It," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 20, 2004, p. A-1.
Note: This essay was updated on August 29, 2004, and again on December 5, 2008.

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