Officials Consider Tampa Int'l Airport's Future

Nov. 7--Even as a bevy of road and parking garage construction projects unfold at Tampa International Airport to accommodate increased passenger traffic, aviation officials are looking to the future to ensure the airport is poised for additional growth.

In 2025, what will TIA look like?

For one, if plans pan out, there will be a third north-south runway to accommodate commercial aviation traffic. That project is expected to occur between 2012 and 2021.

If the most conservative passenger traffic estimates hold true, the airport by 2025 would require a second terminal complex similar to the current one that opened in 1971. Both terminals should fill Tampa International's needs through 2050, but that's just a guess by airport officials.

Also, the U.S. Post Office at the airport -- considered Tampa's "main" postal station -- would be moved to the Drew Park neighborhood, where the airport is purchasing land to expand.

The main cargo terminal near Hillsborough Avenue also is slated to be moved to the extended eastern portion of the airport to make room for the new North Terminal and parking complex.

These projects are outlined in Tampa International's Master Plan Update, scheduled to be completed early next year.

"We have financially engineered our entire operation to allow us to perpetuate this crown jewel... of an airport," Hillsborough County Aviation Authority chairman Stephen Mitchell said.

No one is sure when each project will get under way or how much it will cost.

Determining cost is another step in the planning process. Rather than setting specific dates for expansion, the airport has set thresholds of passenger and aircraft as requirements for when expansion would start

"What you see in the master plan will be demand driven, building when new space is needed ," said Pete Ricondo , director of Ricondo & Associates in Miami, a consulting firm preparing the master plan update with input from local officials and residents.

Passenger levels today have reached record highs -- 19 million in the past year.

When the airport reaches the point of accommodating about 28 million passengers annually -- no one is sure how soon that will be with 2025 an extremely conservative estimate -- the crunch will require completion of the first phase of the North terminal complex.

"When we first started, it was really challenging," Ricondo said. "How do you take a great airport to the next level? That is the expectation Tampa has."