Air travelers checking in for their flights this week were some of the first to get a chance to see the new ticket counter at the Tri-Cities Airport.
The counter opened to the public Tuesday, and is the latest change as a $41.9 million construction project moves toward completion.
When it finishes at the end of January, the airport terminal will have expanded from 60,000 to 110,000 square feet. Ron Foraker, the port’s director of airport services, said the project is on time and on budget.
As the construction crews move away from the ticketing area, they are turning toward expanding the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check-in area. It moved during the renovation process.
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“We’re going to have four lines of passenger screening,” Foraker said. “We’re building for the future. We could get by with two lanes, but we could expand it to four without too much extra cost. (We’re) investing in our growth.”
Use of the airport is increasing, Port of Pasco officials said. They reported an increase of 6 percent between 2014 and 2015, and so far, 9 percent more people are using the airport this year.
The goal is to provide an alternative to driving to Spokane for people in the Columbia Basin.
“We’ve met with a number of airlines. We’ve really had phenomenal growth,” Foraker said. “We serve a larger region from Yakima to Walla Walla to Wenatchee to Moses Lake. ... It’s not just the Tri-Cities community that we serve. It’s a much, much larger region.”
Construction is continuing on the concourse housing Gates 1 and 2. When they are finished, the gates will serve Alaska and United airlines.
The port is working on trying to attract an airline to provide service from Los Angeles. The port received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with raising $300,000 in matching funds.
The most exciting addition for people is going to be a central atrium, Foraker said. He compared it to a similar section of Sea-Tac, which is enclosed in glass and gives people a view of the surrounding area.
“We think it is going to be special,” he said.
Nearby, passengers are going to be able to purchase food and other items.
Next to the improved screening area, port officials plan to install a kids play area designed to look like a miniature airport.
“We hope to grow that a little bit more,” Foraker said. “We’ve based that on some community sponsorships and we’ve received some good feedback.”
The airport expansion started in 2012 as part of the port’s 20-year master plan. The project is being paid for with money from the Federal Aviation Administration and revenue bonds that the port sold.
The bonds will be repaid repaid using revenue from the parking lots, car rentals and airlines.