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‘Direly needed:’ Airport races to finish new terminal as air traffic, passengers return

The first phase of the airport’s expansion includes the $67 million south concourse, which is scheduled to open early next year. (Missoula International Airport courtesy photo)

Construction on the first phase of the new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport continues to advance on schedule, and airport officials are turning to the project’s second phase, which could begin next year.

The first phase, valued at around $67 million, represents the largest single project. It’s expected to open to the public early next year with the final touches now taking place.

“Jet bridges will start to go in over the next month or so with their foundation work, and equipment showing up on site as well,” said airport projects director Tim Damrow. “Our jet bridge parts and pieces showed up yesterday.”

The first phase of the new terminal will include five passenger gates, though one is expected to serve multiple flights, similar to the arrangement for regional flights out of Salt Lake City. Phase 2 will include three additional gates with room for future expansion.

With passenger counts returning to pre-pandemic levels and several new flights serving Missoula, the airport looks to pivot into the new facility as soon as possible. It received $5.3 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan, which will help keep expansion efforts moving forward.

“We’ve got airplanes spread all across the ramp,” said interim airport director Brian Ellestad. “With this summer season, it’s showing us again how inadequate our infrastructure is here at the airport. This new building is direly needed. We’re using bailing wire and twine to keep this (existing) building together.”

The view down the new gate area in the south concourse.

Phase 1 will also include TSA security, ticketing and restaurants,  along with better Internet connectivity and modern amenities not found in the old terminal. It will also house a temporary baggage claim, though that will eventually move into Phase 2 of the project.

That phase, estimated at around $30 million, will include the removal of the existing terminal, which will be replaced with a new east concourse. Airport officials continue to work on design and pricing, which were expected this month but have been pushed out to later this summer.

“We had a workshop on the east concourse,” said Damrow. “We’ll have an update in July or early August.”

With the future now in view, the Missoula County Airport Authority this week awarded a new five-year engineering contract to Morrison-Maierle. The company has taken the lead in the airport’s terminal project and will continue as Phase 2 moves forward.

“We’ve been very happy with hem over the last five years,” Ellestad said. “I don’t see any reason to switch.”

The board also awarded it’s five-year planning contract to Morrison-Maierle. That work will include the airport’s next long-range plan. The current plan is going on 12 years old.

“The project comes down to friendship and the relationships we’ve built here,” said Shawn Shay, the engineering firm’s vice president. “We’ll keep moving on with those same projects to serve the airport. There’s a lot of cool projects we’ve been doing and will continue to do.”