More parking spaces at the Tri-Cities Airport might be added this year instead of resurfacing old ones as the Port of Pasco tries to keep up with airport use.
Port of Pasco commissioners unanimously approved Thursday hiring J-U-B Engineers of Kennewick for $58,700 to design the parking lot project.
Adding more long-term parking stalls to the southeast of the current lot is in the port's once-in-a-generation expansion plans for the airport. But port officials suggested building the added stalls sooner to keep up with growth in airport boardings.
The expanded long-term parking would add 232 spaces while the overflow lot the port was looking at building this year would add 88.
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Airport Director Ron Foraker said demand for parking spots could soon outstrip the overflow lot. Passenger boardings at the airport already are up by 4 percent in the first three months.
The long-term expansion could be built in two phases, adding 129 spaces and then 103, he said.
"It would certainly give us the escape valve that we feel we need," Foraker said.
During the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, Foraker said they were down to 23 empty spots out of the 1,228 in the long-term lot. During the longer Christmas holiday, there were a little more than 100 spaces remaining.
It's a matter of time before both short- and long-term parking lots are full, Foraker said. Then, the only option is to have cars park for free on the dirt lot where the new spaces will go.
With the expanded long-term lot, cars will not exit through the current parking lot toll booth, so users will need to use a credit card to pay for the spaces, he said.
The cost of adding the long-term parking spaces will be determined by J-U-B Engineers during the design. Linda O'Brien, port director of finance and administration, said the port had $700,000 budgeted for the postponed parking lot overlay project that could be used to add more parking.
Airport use that has grown by 100,000 passengers in six years is causing the port to plan for an estimated $9.3 million expansion of the airport terminal.
The project involves remodeling the area near the Transportation Security Administration's security check. The bathrooms will be moved and the area will be opened up so that a line can be formed for security, similar to at larger airports.
And it will involve extending the secured boarding area to the left and right to add gates, with more room for concessions and services and an expanded seating area.
Port commissioners have set aside $3 million for the first phase of terminal improvements and have another $1.8 million from passenger facility charges from airline tickets that could be used.
But even with the savings, airport revenue won't grow fast enough to pay for the improvements in the next five years.
Commissioners decided to postpone a decision on increasing parking fees to help pay for the expansion until after a revenue bond analysis, which could be ready by the port's April 26 meeting.
Parking lot fees are one of three types of revenue the port plans to pledge to repay bonds for the terminal expansion projects. The port also plans to use passenger facility charges and a rental car fee that must be negotiated with rental car companies.
Commissioners had discussed adding $2 a day to long-term parking and $1 a day for short-term parking, bringing the long-term fee to $9 a day and the short-term parking fee to $11 a day. The increase would generate about $540,000 a year.
Eric Huseby, regional manager of Republic Parking System, which manages the port's parking lots, said a $2 a day increase for long-term parking is warranted because the Tri-Cities Airport is on the low end of rates compared to other regional airports. Increasing parking fees does not decrease the use of the parking lots, he said.
But Huseby recommended increasing short-term parking to $12 to maintain a $3 a day gap in price between short- and long-term fees.
He said there already are some problems with curb parking that will only increase if the price difference shrinks between the two lots.
Port Commission President Jim Klindworth suggested increasing per day fees to $13.50 for short-term parking and $10.50 for long-term to help pay for the airport expansion projects.
But Gary Beck, vice chairman of Republic Parking System, suggested the port consider a $2 per day increase now and another increase in two years.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com