Those of us who travel frequently know we've got a good deal at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.
Lines are relatively short, parking is ample and inexpensive, and getting through screening is a breeze compared with lengthy waits at larger airports, where you're herded through a maze of switchbacks before you get the chance to take your shoes off.
And our airport could get even better in two years -- or at least keep pace with expected growth -- if the Port of Pasco proceeds with a proposed $6.5 million upgrade of the terminal building.
As happy as we are with the status quo, we're excited about the prospect of improvements.
The project is part of the airport's five-year capital improvement plan, which would include expanding the existing security area. The bathrooms also would be moved and two more boarding gates would be added to the northwestern part of the terminal.
The revamped screening area would allow for three checkpoints to operate simultaneously. One port commissioner said he wanted to see proof that passengers would indeed move through screening faster if the port spends the money on the project.
But the port also needs to think about accommodating growth even if it only preserves the level of service Tri-Citians enjoy today.
The airport expects to be upgraded to a Category 2 facility. The rating is based on the number of travelers. If the airport sees three consecutive years with more than 250,000 passenger boardings, it will be upgraded. It met that number in 2009 and 2010, and boardings are up thus far in 2011 over last year.
The change would add another 15 Transportation Security Administration staff. The airport could have the new designation by year's end if it applies for the change in the next few months. And that has airport management looking for ways to make the screenings more efficient, should TSA staff be increased.
Money for the project would come from $3.3 million in fees collected on airline ticket sales and $1.2 million in port funds. The port would take out a loan for the balance of the project. Fees would be used to settle the debt and reimburse the port for its investment.
The tentative five-year plan also shows a new parking area for credit card users and a $6.9 million project to realign the taxiway.
More improvements likely are to follow as part of the 20-year master plan. An expanded baggage area and even more new gates are likely needed down the road as the number of travelers using the airport continues to grow.
We've seen multiple improvements in comfort to the airport experience in just the past year. The long-term parking lot has been expanded, and there is an expanded coffee bar and gift shop past the security screening point, as well as a bar for adult beverages.
Little amenities can mean a lot to travelers, especially folks who frequently fly, and the improvements at the airport help make for a full-service flying experience.
It's starting to feel like we have all the benefits of a big airport but retain the convenience of a small-town facility.
We already think we've got a great airport, and we hope the port sees the value in making the improvements needed to keep it that way. It can only enhance the quality of life we enjoy in the Tri-Cities.