The signature building at Raleigh-Durham International Airport is the big hall in Terminal 2 where people buy tickets, check their bags and pass through security.
At times, it feels like that cavernous room isn’t big enough.
Now RDU is moving to enlarge what it calls the “landside” of the terminal by expanding the building at both ends, to add more ticket counters, baggage carousels and security checkpoints. The RDU Airport Authority approved a $30 million contract Thursday for final designs and other work needed to begin construction in early 2025.
The project aims not only to ease the crowding that already occurs, particularly in the early mornings, but also make the landside of the terminal big enough to handle future expansion on the airfield or post-security side. Later this decade, RDU plans to begin increasing the number of gates in Terminal 2 from 33 to 53 by 2050, by adding wings to the existing concourses.
The estimated cost of the landside expansion is about $400 million, said Jennifer Evangelist, project manager for RDU.
“It’s quite big,” Evangelist told Airport Authority members. “We are doubling the size of the building, and it is quite complex.”
When completed by late 2027, the landside expansion will:
▪ Double the space for the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, with room for new lanes and more space for queuing. During busy times, the lines for security spill out of the checkpoint area and snake around the ticketing hall.
▪ Enlarge the Customs and Border Protection facility for incoming international passengers. With more queuing space and additional kiosks, the airport hopes to increase capacity from 400 passengers per hour to 1,000.
▪ Add two more sets of ticketing counters, bringing the total to five. Some airlines now share ticketing counters because all of them are occupied.
▪ Increase the baggage handling area and the number of baggage claim carousels from five to eight. Two of the carousels would primarily handle international flights but could be used for domestic flights during busy times.
Additions will respect the existing architecture
RDU can’t add gates to Terminal 2 until the new main runway opens west of the current one, about 537 feet farther away from the building. The airport broke ground on its runway replacement project last week and expects to begin using it by 2028.
By then, the landside expansion should be finished.
Terminal 2 became the largest and busiest of RDU’s two passenger terminals when it opened in 2008. It was designed by a team of architects led by North Carolina native Curt Fentress, who trained at N.C. State University. The building’s wavy roof was meant to evoke the undulating hills of the Piedmont, with clerestory windows and glass walls that fill the space with sunlight.
“We’re looking at respecting the existing architecture,” she said.
The expansion of Terminal 2 is part of a larger construction plan at RDU that will include nearly tripling the size of its largest remote parking lot, adding new gates to Terminal 1 and building new ground transportation and rental car centers in and adjacent to the parking decks.
Altogether, RDU expects to spend $2.8 billion on construction in the coming decade.
Three years after COVID-19 emptied airports around the world, RDU feels crowded again. Since February, airlines have added 46 routes, including 21 to new destinations, and RDU is on track to exceed its annual record of about 14 million passengers set in 2019.