Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Based upon the recommendation of its parking vendor, the Missoula County Airport Authority this week agreed to raise long-term parking fees by $1 a day and keep other rates flat.

Republic Parking, which has served as the airport's parking vendor since 1999, suggested the airport's parking rates were below peer airports. It also has taken on new labor costs to meet the airport's growth.

The airport board agreed and settled on a new long-term parking rate of $10 a day. It will keep the first hour free and hold prices in the short-term lot at $15.

Airport Director Brian Ellestad said the new rate brings Missoula closer to alignment with peer airports and remains $5 cheaper per day than the airports in Bozeman and Kalispell.

The Missoula airport last raised its parking fees in 2020. The new rate will begin in October, though not everyone supported the increase.

“One of our goals is relative equitable access to airport amenities,” said David Bell, who currently serves on the airport authority as an alternate commissioner. “Inflation, almost by definition, is death by 1,000 cuts. I didn't hear a need for this funding.”

Airport officials also said that adding more parking in the future, given current spatial constraints, will be challenging. A shuttle lot has been identified for long-term growth if a better lot within walking distance of the terminal isn't identified during an upcoming master plan.

The airport said it needs to build a pool of funding to address future parking infrastructure. In the past, a parking garage has been discussed, though it's uncertain if that will remain as an option in the airport master plan.

The new fund came as a surprise to some, however.

“I didn't hear that we were intentionally beginning to build a fund to help ensure that economy parking can remain within a reasonable walking distance in the future, so that we don't begin to bifurcate the least affluent and most affluent and their ability to park on site,” said Bell. “We are pretty close the median of airports already.”

Long-term parking rates at other airports include $7 a day in Great Falls; $8 in Spokane, $9 in Idaho Falls; $11 in Billings; and $15 in both Bozeman and Kalispell.