Expansion at Tampa, Fla., Airport May Cost $1.5-Billion

Nov. 18--TAMPA -- Tampa International Airport will need to spend as much as $1.5-billion over the next decade to enlarge its facility to meet growing demand.

The money would pay for a third north-south runway, new taxiways, extensive road expansion, more parking, a new north terminal with a 14-gate airside and the demolition and reconstruction of Airside D in the existing Landside terminal.

And it all would be built without spending any local tax money.

Projections of airport growth suggest the burst of expansion will have to be up and running by 2017. TIA has had 24 consecutive months of record passenger growth.

"In the last 34 years (since the current facility was built), growth has exceeded all our expectations, and I don't see any indication it will decline," said Tampa developer Al Austin, a board member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

"It probably will increase," he said. "I think these forecasts ... are on the conservative side. I'm concerned about playing catch-up and not getting ahead of the curve. We might need to be ready ... to move ahead more quickly."

Louis Miller, the airport's executive director, assured the board that the plan was flexible.

After absorbing a two-year downturn in passenger traffic following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, TIA began growing so fast that passenger counts were mounting at twice the national average for commercial airports.

Airport officials, who had expected the current facility to be adequate until 2020, realized that wasn't to be.

More than 19-million passengers used the airport in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That is approaching the airport's comfortable capacity. It will take millions of dollars just to reconfigure the current facility to handle 25-million to 28-million passengers, which should accommodate growth until the new terminal complex can open.

For example, it would cost $21-million just to push back the shuttle lobby for Airside E by 40 feet to make room for people waiting to pick up or drop off passengers.

"Over the last two years, airport growth has averaged 11 percent," Miller said. "We are 16.5 percent above passenger counts from before 9/11. As strange as it sounds, I'm a little relieved to report that the preliminary passenger numbers for October showed only a 2 percent increase."

TIA will not need local tax dollars to finance the construction program, Miller said. In fact, the last time the aviation authority took city or county taxes for anything was in 1973.

That doesn't mean the public is off the hook, however. The planning, development and construction will be paid with existing airport user and airline fees, state and federal grants and passenger facility charges, all of which is public money.

Of the $1.47-billion cost, the new north terminal would account for $890-million in 2005 dollars. That is the combined price for the new airside as well as a new main terminal building and new infrastructure. As many as three additional airsides can be added later.

If the north terminal eventually gets four airsides, they will push the facility beyond TIA's current property boundaries and require the relocation of Hillsborough Avenue north of the airport. However, two of the four potential new airsides can be built without disturbing the highway.

"The airport would be able to accommodate 50-million passengers a year before anybody had to think about moving Hillsborough Avenue for the last two airsides," Miller said. "That's 30 years down the road. None of us will be here to see that."

A fully built-out TIA, with four airsides in the north complex and a reconstructed Airside D in the south terminal, would have 130 gates, 67 at the current facility and 63 on the north side. As it sits now, the airport has 59 gates.

The pricetag, disclosed for the first time at an aviation authority board workshop Thursday, didn't seem to faze board members, who will vote on the new master plan at their regular meeting in December. The plan then will go to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval, a process that can take three to four months.

Airlines operating at TIA have been briefed on the master plan, but several contacted Thursday declined to comment on a document that has yet to receive board or FAA approval.

Meanwhile, Miller said, the new remote economy garage has already filled up once, well before the start of the winter holiday season. Phase One of the facility opened Nov. 9, putting 3,300 new spaces into the airport's parking inventory. Phase Two, which will open next summer, will add 2,300 more spaces.

Despite the one-day capacity use of the garage, TIA officials are confident they will get through this year's holidays without a problem.

"We have 2,300 additional spaces in the surface lots outside the garage, 900 spaces in overflow parking and a 1,200-space grass lot," said deputy executive director John Wheat. "We fully anticipate we will be able to handle the holiday rush this year."

However, even as construction continues on the first remote garage, Miller said a second one will be needed before the north terminal complex opens. It would, he said, sit next to the first garage and use the same ramp system.

In the effort to create more space in the current terminal to buy time, Miller said he would "make every effort" to draw the line at moving car rental businesses to a remote location, which would require shuttling passengers back and forth.

"We have that option if we absolutely have to use it," Miller said. "But it has to be a last resort. It's not in keeping with our user-friendly efforts."

PASSENGERS AT TIA:

The total number of passengers at Tampa International Airport in the four past fiscal years (Oct. 1 through Sept. 30):

--2002: 15,237,000

--2003: 15,322,000

--2004: 16,931,000

--2005: 18,938,000

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