Airport garage cost going up $2.3M.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Atlantic City International Airport operators are spending another $2.3 million on the facility's under-construction parking garage, with customers picking up much of the tab.

The bulk of the funds - $1.7 million - will finance moving the airport's rental-car agencies from the airport terminal to the parking garage.

The parking garage was originally designed to house just rental-company vehicles, but subsequent discussions with airport rental-car companies led to a decision to move the entire operation to the parking garage, said Samuel L. Donelson, engineering director for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, or SJTA. That change requires the parking garage to now have office and public space for rental-car companies and customers, along with entrances and exits separate from those that will be used by parking garage customers, he said.

The new construction will be paid for by an increase in the "customer facility charge," which now imposes a daily $3 fee on all rental cars.

Thomas Rafter, who oversees airport operations for the SJTA, said customers shouldn't consider the new customer facility charge as just a fee hike, but as an investment that will provide much better rental-car facilities and services.

Commissioners who oversee the SJTA, which operates the airport and the Atlantic City Expressway, approved the new $1.7 million expenditure during their meeting at SJTA headquarters at the expressway's Frank S. Farley Service Plaza here on Tuesday. They approved the customer facility charge change last month.

Also on Tuesday, SJTA commissioners approved another $591,526 to pay for the parking garage's toll-collection equipment.

Donelson said the SJTA knew when it approved the original financing for the parking garage that it would eventually have to buy the equipment. The SJTA delayed the purchase because it wanted to wait until it settled on toll-collection equipment for its overall parking operation, he said.

Donelson said neither the work regarding the rental-car facilities nor the toll-collection equipment would delay the opening of the parking garage, which is set for next year.

Work on the $24.6 million, 1,400-space parking garage at the airport in Egg Harbor Township began earlier this year.

The SJTA awarded the parking garage contract to Weatherby Construction and Renovation Corp., of Ventnor, in July 2006. The contract was about $1 million less than the one the SJTA was originally going to award to Weatherby in January 2006.

The contract was rebid on the order of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration following a review of the project by Corzine's authorities unit.

The two contracts approved Tuesday were also awarded to Weatherby.

SJTA officials said the parking garage is an important part of plans to expand and upgrade Atlantic City International to attract more airlines, airline routes and passengers. Those plans include upgrading runways, a new baggage-screening facility, an an overall renovation of the airport terminal.

Rental-car companies are now housed in the airport terminal, situated along a concourse outside the baggage-claim area.

Donelson said moving the rental-car facilities out of their current location will free up needed space for passengers trying to retrieve their luggage and create a better "meet and greet" area.

To e-mail Thomas Barlas at The Press: