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More projects to take off at Charlotte/Douglas

This rendering from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport shows what a terminal expansion on the east side of the airport might look like when the $20 million, 6,000-square-foot project is done. Expected completion is May 2012.

When Charlotte officials are marketing the city, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport is usually one of the top features touted as helping boost economic development and tourism in the region.

While airports in bigger cities, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, handle more flights and passengers, Charlotte/Douglas continues to expand its operations, including a runway — the airport’s fourth — that opened in January 2010.

That runway helped the airport hit a passenger traffic record last year — 38.3 million travelers, up 11 percent from 34.5 million in 2009 — spokeswoman Lee Davis said. And, according to a report released this week, the airport rose to the seventh-busiest in the world for takeoffs and landings last year.

Even more airport construction is on the horizon.

Consider this:

  • a terminal expansion on the east side of the airport is slated to be completed next year;
  • construction on a new parking deck is scheduled to begin later this year;
  • an intermodal rail and trucking facility is expected to be under construction this year; and
  • a terminal roadway expansion by three lanes to eight, a project with an uncertain start date.

Davis said those projects will further increase the airport’s capacity and help bring to the region billions of dollars in business.

Michelle Mohr, corporate communications manager for US Airways, which operates its largest hub in Charlotte, said the airport’s expansions stem from the airline realigning its route network over the past year. As a result of those route changes, about 99 percent of US Airways’ flights touch down at the hub airports, which include Phoenix, Philadelphia and Charlotte, or the smaller shuttle airports such as Ronald Reagan Washington National, New York City’s LaGuardia and Boston Logan International.

The vast majority of traffic through Charlotte for US Airways is connecting traffic, Mohr said. Today, US Airways has more than 600 daily departures out of Charlotte to more than 130 destinations.

Officials say investments in the airport have a ripple effect in the region’s economy.

“The airport, which is our region’s No. 1 economic generator, is often the first – and sometimes the only – impression that visitors have of the Charlotte region,” said Ronnie Bryant, president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes economic development in the 16-county Charlotte region. “It helps us market the Charlotte region and attract companies that bring capital investment and job opportunities.”

Indeed, when setting up local offices or headquarters, companies often cite Charlotte/Douglas as crucial to its decision to move to Charlotte. Democratic Party officials noted that the size and convenience of the airport was a key factor in selecting Charlotte as the host city for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Lee said the airport is home to some 15,000 jobs. According to a 2005 study by the Center for Transportation Policy Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the airport generates nearly $10 billion in annual economic impact and more than 100,000 jobs are directly or indirectly created by the airport and the businesses that serve it.

“Charlotte/Douglas International Airport is a proven and invaluable asset for Charlotte, both as a business commodity and a tourism and convention asset,” said Tim Newman, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “One of the main reasons a meeting planner chooses a destination is due to the accessibility of a city for their meeting attendees. The increase of the number of flights, the originating cities, direct flights and international offerings make for a very good business model for Charlotte.”

Sam Boykin can be reached at [email protected].

Charlotte/Douglas projects at a glance

1. Fourth runway

Details: 9,000 feet long; 4,300 feet west of the center runway; allows airlines to add flights and accommodate a greater number of travelers

Cost: $325 million

Started: April 2007

Completed: January 2010

Contractors: Piedmont, S.C.-based E.S. Wagner Co. (grading and drainage); Hilliard, Ohio-based Hi-Way Paving Inc. (paving and lighting); Mableton, Ga.-based Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates Inc. (electrical work and lighting)

2. Terminal east side expansion

Details: 6,000-square-foot project on the east side of the airport; will increase the terminal lobby capacity

and reduce passenger processing time; will add a fifth security checkpoint, airline support space and public circulation space; will provide additional space in the international arrivals area for airline recheck and baggage processing

Started: November

Expected completion: May 2012

Cost: $20 million

Contractor: Charlotte-based Edison Foard Inc.

3. Hourly/rental car deck

Details: 7,000-space parking structure to be built at the current site of the daily lot

Expected construction start: August

Expected completion: December 2014

Cost: $168 million

Contractor: Not selected because project has not been bid on yet

4. Intermodal railroad yard

Details: A rail and trucking facility that could bring the region $7 billion in business over the next two decades, airport spokeswoman Lee Davis said. Norfolk Southern is still working on construction plans.

Expected construction start: This year

Expected completion: Construction expected to take 12 months

Cost: $90 million

Contractor: Contractors not chosen as project plans still being drawn

4. Terminal roadway

Details: Will expand terminal roadway by three lanes to eight and reconfigure car circulation, moving commercial vehicles to inner lanes and shifting private vehicles to outer lanes

Expected construction start: Not finalized

Expected completion: Approximately 12 months from the start of construction

Cost: $25 million

Contractor: Not selected because project has not been bid on yet

Source: Mecklenburg Times staff research

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