With summer at hand, Missoula International Airport is scrambling to accommodate passenger loads that exceed the terminal’s original design, leaving travelers in tight quarters and jetliners jockeying for parking positions.
As airport officials said Tuesday, construction of the city’s new $67 million passenger terminal can’t happen soon enough.
“We continue to have record months,” said Brian Ellestad, the airport’s deputy director. “Summer is pushing us over the limit here for this building, so I’m glad we’re going to get started on construction. We need a building fast.”
The Missoula County Airport Authority stepped in that direction Tuesday by enabling staff to accept two federal grants as they come available in the coming days.
The first, at $1.2 million, will cover costs associated with relocating the TSA security checkpoint and pay for the terminal’s preconstruction services. The other, at $1.4 million, will help fund the extension of the terminal access road and lay the utilities needed to feed the new facility.
That project is budgeted at $3.3 million.
“Right now for arrivals and departures out front, it’s just packed,” said Ellestad. “This will lengthen up the arrival and departure corridor and get the utilities in the right place.”
Before the airport can begin major construction, it plans to move TSA to a new location within the lobby to make room for deconstruction of the terminal’s west end. It also plans to install the new access road.
Both projects will happen this summer before deconstruction starts.
“There will be some work happening next week,” said Steve Conway of Martell Construction. “But in mid-September is when we’ll start” on the access road.
With the initial phase of work gearing up, airport officials are also looking to secure funding from the $1 billion in supplemental appropriations set aside by Congress. Small and non-hub airports like Missoula are first in line for the funding, so long as they have shovel-ready projects.
The terminal project in Missoula qualifies.
“We’ll make sure we have our ducks in a row and we’re ready to compete for those funds,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “We feel pretty confident and the FAA tells us we have a pretty good chance of getting some additional funding.”
So far this year, more than 173,000 passengers have flow from Missoula and 178,000 passengers have arrived, both well ahead of last year’s figures. With larger aircraft and more destinations, it has set new passenger records in each of the past few years, including last year’s record of 772,000.
While the terminal project will take years to complete, getting it started can’t happen fast enough, airport officials said. As they gear up for the first phase of work, they’ll also launch a public campaign to ease passenger angst.
The airport has contracted The Quotient Group to handle marketing and public relations during the multi-year terminal project. The Wisconsin company specializes in aviation and transit marketing.
“They’ve been working with our team to narrow down the timeline – what we’re going to do and how we’re going to message this,” said Tim Damrow, the airport’s manager of projects. “That’s been the bulk of what they’ve been focusing on, trying to give us an executable calendar to say this is what we should do, when we should do it and why we should do it.”