John B. Harris Jr., a retired banking executive and member of the airport authority in the 1980s, said officials first considered a new terminal in the 1960s. But plans were shelved when Wake voters defeated a 1967 bond issue that also would have paid for a new runway.
"It's been a hodgepodge from the very beginning, because we never had any money," Harris said.
In the beginning, the needs were so many that priorities often shifted. When resurfacing a runway -- the only one long enough to accommodate airliners -- shut down the airport for two weeks in 1976, the new terminal was sidelined. Instead, Terminal A was built as a temporary facility that would be converted into a hangar, and work started on a new runway. It opened in 1986 after four years of construction.
But when American chose RDU for a hub and built Terminal C, other airlines stayed congregated in Terminal A. By the early 1990s, the facility was inadequate despite interior and exterior upgrades and expansions. Terminal B, the original terminal once slated for demolition, was connected to add more room, but space was quickly taken up.
American pulled out of the hub in 1995 and the authority once again began planning for a new terminal. But those plans were shelved after the 2001 terrorist attacks caused air travel to plummet. Now, with air travel picking back up, the authority is finally building the terminal that members started dreaming about 40 years ago.
The project will be paid for with airport bonds, RDU revenue and a passenger facility charge of $4.50 per ticket, said Mindy Hamlin, an airport representative. The airport issued $75 million in bonds this year and plans another issue as construction progresses. No tax money will be used for the project, Hamlin said.
Catch-up projects will be over, but Brantley said RDU visitors will still see construction sporadically.
"The terminal will be there 40 or 50 years. They'll always be renovations, but every five or 10 years, we won't be having to add on to it," Brantley said.