Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Airport proposal's price tag: $1.2B


Passengers take front seat in plan's priorities

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - Airport officials say they kept ease of movement for passengers as the top priority when crafting the newly unveiled airport master plan, which they said Tuesday will cost an estimated $1.2 billion when complete.

By the time the plan is finished in 30 years or so, passengers flying out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport won't have to deal with a traffic light when driving in from the east.

A wide, banking exit from Interstate 275 will take them directly to the terminal area, with signs marking where they need to go.

Once there, they will park and get on a tram system to carry them to one building that will serve all the airlines.

Or, if light rail is ever built in the Tristate, passengers could board in Ohio or Northern Kentucky, get off at a station just north of the airport and then hop on that same tram system.

Inside the lone terminal, passengers could get to all three concourses, including a yet-to-be built building that could handle both large mainline jets and smaller regional jets, by way of an underground train system.

There would be no buses, used now for passengers flying out of regional carrier Comair's Concourse C.

"We've got a reputation as being people-friendly at this airport, and this airport allows us to stay that way but handle double the amount of people," said airport planning director Bill Martin.

On Tuesday, Martin gave an overview of the 30-year plan at a special meeting of the board that oversees the airport.

"We really tried to look around at the different modes of travel and to make the travel experience as easy as possible," Martin said.

The plan could start within two to three years, airport officials said.

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Martin and the consultants hired to help create the plan stressed that the figures used to estimate the total cost were very preliminary.

The board took no action on the proposal, but plans to vote on it next month.

Other highlights of the plan include:

• Eventual elimination of Terminals 1 and 2, with all passengers traveling through an expanded Terminal 3.

This terminal would include an expanded security checkpoint and a possible vehicle checkpoint.

There would also be "transportation centers" on either side of the building for vans and taxis to help clear congestion in front of the building.

• Construction of a new "Concourse D," which would be connected to the terminal via underground train.

This building could handle both regular and regional jets.

In addition, Concourses A and B would be expanded to add more gates.

• Reconfiguring all the access roads to and around the airport, and organizing the on-ramps and off-ramps to I-275 for easier access.

• Reclaiming 40 acres for redevelopment, and the construction of a new hotel to replace the current one.

The plan would be conducted in five phases, with the first two steps to cost $8.2 million and $154.2 million, respectively.

Those two phases would include the construction of a centralized car-rental area and reconstruction of the interchange with I-275.

Airport officials said those two phases could easily be paid for through existing passenger fees or new rental-car user fees in conjunction with new bonds.

The final and most expensive steps of the plan were not analyzed because they wouldn't be started for at least 15 to 20 years.

Airport officials also said each step would be acted on when certain passenger or operational numbers are reached.

"It's very flexible, and not set into any certain date as to when we need to do something," Martin said.

There could be some extra shuttling short-term, however.

The first phase of the plan calls for Northwest and Continental Airlines to possibly move in with Delta Air Lines in Terminal 3.

That move, precipitated by a recent alliance among the three airlines, could mean Terminal 1 - the oldest at the airport - would be vacant.

Erlanger-based Comair, which operates the most flights locally, would then take over as many as 14 gates at Terminal 1, using buses to move passengers from Concourse C.

Some board members expressed concern over having passengers ride two different buses.

However, Martin and Comair officials stressed that it would be a short-term solution used during peak periods only.

"We've been doing that from Concourse C to Concourse A for some time now, so this would be a workable temporary situation," Comair spokesman Nick Miller said.

"Obviously, we would only use this on an overflow basis,'' Miller said.

E-mail jpilcher@enquirer.com




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