Federal funding to ensure terminal project remains on schedule at Missoula airport

A federal funding bill passed last week will help ensure the $67 million terminal project remains on schedule at Missoula International Airport. Steel construction is expected to begin next month, and a concessionaire will be chose to occupy the new facility. (Airport courtesy photo)

A bill funding the federal government for the current fiscal year will give Missoula International Airport the surety it needs to push forward with its terminal project, just as it braces for the possible addition of new flights and another record year in passengers.

“For us, the big thing continues to be continuity of funding,” said Missoula airport director Cris Jensen. “When funds start and stop, it’s hard to plan a large construction project around that.”

Last year, the federal government closed at this time, leaving many federal workers unpaid or working for free, including TSA agents based at the Missoula airport.

But on last week’s deadline, Congress successfully passed a funding bill, which included $3.3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program and $1 billion in BUILD grant funding. Both programs are important to infrastructure projects in Missoula.

“All in all, we’re happy it’s not another continuing resolution and that we’re good for the remainder of the year,” said Jensen. “We’re happy with the numbers.”

The airport opened bids last month for the next phase of its $67 million passenger terminal. The Missoula County Airport Authority is expected to award the bids this month, and crews will begin steel work this winter.

The work relies in part on federal grants to cash flow the project. Had Congress not funded the government, it could have postponed vital grants, forcing the airport to take on debt to keep construction moving forward on schedule.

“We just submitted our grant application now that we know what’s going on,” said Jensen. “It will allow us to get our grant earlier in the year, which is a good thing in terms of the project and not having to use debt.”

While the first new terminal and south concourse won’t open until late 2021, the airport is bracing for what’s expected to be another record year. Already, 2019 will close at a new mark, thanks in part to expanded air service and the addition of more seats.

That growth is expected to continue.

“We think there’s going to be some additional air service we might have the opportunity to talk about in the future,” Jensen said. “Our big challenge is trying to accommodate that until the new terminal is ready. We’re working our way through that.”

Next month, the airport authority will also award bids to a concessionaire to occupy the new terminal. The chosen applicant will be required to finish the space in the south concourse and offer food and beverages, including beer and wine.

Five proposals were received.

“We’ll conduct interviews in the month of January, and our hope is to award it in February,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of exciting things that are wrapped up in this terminal project that go beyond just the building of it. It’ll be a busy but exciting year for sure.”