Glacier Park International Airport will embark on nearly $8 million in airport improvements this summer as part of a new 20-year master plan for the airport.
Among the upgrades are the reconstruction of the full length of the taxiway, a sister project to the runway rehabilitation done two years ago when the airport was closed three days a week during August. This time around, though, there will be no down time for passengers, Airport Director Cindi Martin said.
“It won’t have the impact to service that the runway project had,” she said.
Other improvements are the installation of a traffic light on U.S. 2 at the airport entrance and the rebuilding of the entrance road. The projects will go to bid in March, Martin said. Federal money will pay for 95 percent of the improvements, with the remaining 5 percent matched by the Flathead County Airport Authority.
The entrance road will be straightened so it feeds more directly into U.S. 2, Martin said. A roundabout will be part of the road project.
In an effort to reduce traffic on the entrance road, the fence on the north side will be moved back and a new road will be built to divert vehicles to the general aviation facilities and airport employee parking lots.
“They’ll be able to come and go without going to the terminal and it will alleviate congestion,” Martin said. “We’ll get a lot of capacity back.”
The master plan calls for a new loop road within the next seven to 14 years that would connect to Fuel Farm Road south of the entrance. One portion of the loop road will be built this summer, Martin said.
The idea is to have the loop road ready to match airport terminal expansion that would be done on the south side at some point in the future.
“We would like to feed southbound traffic out Fuel Farm Road for passenger convenience and for traffic control,” Martin said.
The airport board of directors has been working on the new master plan for three years, doing it in schedules so some preliminary projects — such as relocating the rental car wash facility — could be done while the board still was working the overall master plan.
“For us, it’s a working document,” Martin said. “The board was very thoughtful. We wanted smart, balanced growth and wanted to repurpose as much as we could within the airport’s footprint.”
Because stormwater management and utility baseline studies were done as part of the master plan, projects within the plan are eligible for 95 percent federal funding, Martin added.
Airports are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to outline six-year capital improvement programs and prioritize how federal money would be spent for capital projects.
“The first three years are typically a reality and the last three years are a wish list,” Martin said.
Glacier Park International’s capital improvement plan over the next six years calls for $26 million worth of improvement projects. That includes the $8 million in upgrades planned this summer. Also proposed are the rehabilitation and expansion of the airline ramp, installation of a de-icing pad and a glycol retention system.
Improvements to the airport interior also are being considered.
“We’re already looking at that, and having the architects look at what we might repurpose,” Martin said. “It’s time to rehab the look.”
The 1997 commercial-grade carpet will be replaced, possibly with a different kind of floor covering that’s easier to maintain and is eco-friendly.
Seating in the gate area will be revamped to accommodate today’s travelers. The existing linear seating no longer is efficient, Martin noted, especially with the longer length of time passengers are in the gate area after going through security.
“People like their space,” Martin said, explaining that pods of chairs would allow passengers more personal space and room to work on their laptops or other electronic devices. Electrical recharge stations will be added for further convenience.
“With more security checks there’s far more hang time, so we want to make the gate area work-friendly and comfortable,” she said.
Restaurant and gift-shop facilities also would be beefed up in the secure gate area to where most of the consumer demand has shifted.
“We still want to meet the needs of the meets and greeters” in the main airport lobby, though, Martin added.
She expects the seating and carpeting projects to be completed within a couple of years, and the restaurant enhancements in two to five years.
The master plan divides upgrades into short-, mid- and long-term projects, but because the plan is a working document, some of the long-term projects may change by the time the plan reaches its full 20-year planning cycle.
Security will continue to be “this ever-changing giant unknown,” Martin said, prompting airports to meet federal Transportation Security Administration directives. The federal agency now is considering creating separate security lines for frequent, regular and high-risk travelers. That’s an unfunded mandate that would take up room in an already expanded security check-in area, she said.
“It’s a one size fits all” airport directive, Martin said. “But one size won’t fit all. Our concern is being able to meet” the mandate and still be able to accomplish other capital improvement plans.
Glacier Park International already has started engineering a plan to accommodate the “black box” full-body scanners that will arrive at some point, though Martin hasn’t been told when.
Another project on the front burner is establishing a gas station and convenience store along U.S. 2 on the south end of airport property where a former homesite and farm were located. The airport will put the project out to bid this spring, Martin said.
At one point a developer had plans for a motel near the airport, but that project was mothballed because of septic issues, she added.
Although the demand for general aviation services is declining nationwide, Martin said the airport will continue to maintain the current space devoted to servicing privately owned aircraft. That area won’t expand, though, she added. High fuel costs and added security restrictions are driving the decline in general aviation.
“It’s really a pivotal time in aviation history,” Martin said. “I don’t think anyone anticipated the impacts to general aviation we’re seeing.”
At Glacier Park International, the board and the airport’s 21 employees (federal security workers are a separate entity governed by TSA) continue to work on ways to increase efficiency. The airport’s annual operating and maintenance budget is $3.5 million “and that’s very lean,” Martin said.
“We’re always asking ‘what’s working, what’s not and what can we do better?’” she said. “We tell our employees that, too, and they come up with efficiencies. We don’t rest on our laurels.”
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at email@example.com.