Friday, August 9, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

City Council approves $62 million expansion of terminal at ABIA

With little to no turbulence whatsoever, Austin City Council members Thursday authorized more than $62 million for expanding the Barbara Jordan Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Passengers will foot some of that bill, but will likely benefit from shorter wait times through security and better baggage handling.

“As I understand it…there are two classes of benefits that will come to Austin and users of the airport as a result of building this knuckle,” said Council Member Bill Spelman. “One of them is the long-term benefit of supporting the long-term plan. And one of them is the short-term benefit of making it easier to get through security and providing additional baggage handling.”

Crews are expected to begin work on the Terminal East Infill Project this year. The project is intended to improve passenger flow by connecting the east ticket lobby to the concourse near Gate 5. Crews will renovate about 17,000 existing square feet of the terminal and add another 55,000 square feet. Inbound and outbound baggage carousels will be built and the Customs area will be expanded.

The main component of the project deals with security lanes. Crews will expand the security screening checkpoint area to 10 lanes.

“We have three permanent security footprints and we added a temporary one last year,” said Jim Smith, Executive Director of ABIA. “It has been very successful in holding down our wait times to reasonable numbers.”

A record 9.4 million travelers used the airport in 2012. Officials say that number will rapidly rise. At peak hours, it is not uncommon for passengers to wait about an hour to make it through security. The expansion is expected to cut that time in half.

“The original design of the airport back in 1999 when it opened was designed for a roughly 11 million-passenger threshold,” Smith said. “This year we’re going to get very close to 10 million if not exceed 10 million passengers. Even from a long-term planning perspective, we feel the demand is there to start thinking about changing all of the systems at the airport and expanding them to accommodate future growth.”

Smith says these improvements will accommodate the airport through the next 10 to 15 years’ worth of growth.

The cost of the expansion will be felt, albeit minimally, by passengers. For Fiscal Year 2012, the cost per enplaned passenger (the average cost per passenger for an airline to operate at a given airport) was $8.48. For FYs 2013 and 2014, airport officials estimate those figures will be $8.76 and $8.86 respectively.

Spelman, verbally working himself through the figures, estimates this specific project will bump up passengers’ cost for using the airport overall by about 50 cents.

“In exchange, you’re going to get a permanent reduction in the max wait time to get through security from 60 minutes to about 30 minutes…at least on average,” Spelman said. “It seems to me that that’s a deal we can reasonably make with our passengers.”

The item provoked public comment from only two individuals, Austin attorney and Chamber of Commerce member Paul Trahan, and U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association spokesman Paul Saldaña who asked for clarification on the construction method goals. Both speakers said their organizations were in support of the airport expansion.

The construction will be performed by Hensel Phelps and Austin design firm PageSoutherlandPage. It is expected to be completed by 2015.

Three items on Thursday’s Council agenda were directly related to the authorization of funding for this project. All three passed unanimously.

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