The real value of the new $295 million tunnel underneath a runway at the Calgary International Airport might not be fully appreciated for years, a northeast city councillor says.

But Ward 3 Coun. Jim Stevenson, who pushed for its construction since he was elected in 2007, says he is sure the 620-metre long tunnel will become a key link for people to get to the airport from the east.

The tunnel at 96th Avenue, which turns into Airport Trail, connects 36th Street to Barlow Trail N.E. — which was partially closed for construction of the new runway.

The tunnel will open to traffic on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. MT, but people will get a chance to walk through the structure during an official opening event on Saturday.

“It’s been a long six years but it's pretty exciting thing to see the structure the way it is right now and to actually see traffic moving through it in the next few days, it's going to be great,” Stevenson said.

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The airport tunnel connects Barlow Trail to 36th Street N.E. (City of Calgary )

With Country Hills Boulevard just north of the tunnel developing into a major retail and commercial strip, Stevenson says Calgarians will appreciate having a more efficient route to the airport.

The city estimates 15,000 vehicles per day will use the tunnel when it first opens. But that figure is expected to double in only a few years. 

The tunnel has the latest in security and safety features, from cameras and infrared detectors to air monitoring systems, said project manager Henry Wong.

At each end of the tunnel there is a small control building which links those system to city and airport officials, he said.

The newly constructed runway on top of the tunnel is the longest in the country, at more than four kilometres.

The first flight is scheduled to depart from the $600-million runway on June 20 at 2 p.m. MT.

New terminal wise investment

A new $1.4 billion international terminal is also set to open at the airport in late 2015.

Rick Erickson, an independent airline analyst, says all the capital investment will pay off.

“So the new terminal will essentially double the area of the Calgary airport and add 22 new gates. That combined with the runway will really ease a significant congestion problem we have now,” he said.

“You know the Calgary airport was opened in the late 1970s and nobody envisioned 14 million passengers a year at that time.”

Calgary is the third busiest airport in the country and could move up a spot because of the new runway and terminal, Erickson said.

“I still think that that's a very sound investment for our community as a whole. You know the airport itself is responsible for around 40,000 jobs in Calgary and $6 billion of economic output.”