JIA project planning takes off

If approved, first phase would improve ticketing, check-in process

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007

A $10 million renovation and expansion of Juneau's aging airport terminal is slated to begin next summer in what airport planners hope will be the first phase of a much bigger project.

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Planners held a work session Thursday with airline representatives, concessionaires, city promoters and federal transportation security officials to look over designs and brainstorm ideas for improvements.

"The more agreement we have now, the less wheel spinning we will do later," said airport architect and project manager Catherine Fritz.

City and airport officials have been pushing for improvements they say are needed to cope with increasing numbers of passengers, tighter security controls and outdated plumbing, electrical wiring and air circulation systems.

But voters in the 2005 general election narrowly rejected using $20 million of sales tax revenue for an estimated $76 million dollar project.

Officials have since scrapped plans for a covered parking area, which would have cost more than $23 million, and are approaching the project in bite-size pieces, Fritz said.

"We basically took that master plan and started breaking it down into chunks, debating for some time where were highest priorities and needs," she said. "That's when we came up with the idea that we should affect the areas that most people experience first."

The first phase of the project is designed to expand the baggage pickup area and lengthen the conveyor belt, improve the ticketing and check-in process, make baggage screening more efficient and create a staging room for groups on the ground floor.

Improvements to the second floor would open up more space for passenger security screening and for people to meet and greet disembarking passengers. It would include the addition of a kiosk where passengers can buy food and drink in the departure lounge.

The work would entail an 8,000-square-foot addition to the east side of the terminal, expanding the facility's area by about 10 percent and recouping much of the space lost to security screening since 2001. The installation of smaller, more efficient energy-saving mechanical and electrical systems would free up space as well, Fritz said.

Less than a handful of people drifted in for a public show-and-tell session Thursday evening. Janelle White, an employee of the federal Transportation Security Administration, said that speaking for herself, she liked the designs, particularly the added space on the second floor.

"There is a lot of congestion, especially in the area where you have the line (for passenger screening) right in front of the escalator and you can't get past it when you're coming up the escalator," White said.

At the work session, Lorene Palmer, president and chief executive officer of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she supports the plan but asked how she should respond to some of the public's qualms.

She asked about concerns that the congestion was more of a scheduling problem and could be alleviated if Alaska Airlines staggered its departure and arrival times better.

Alaska Airlines Airport Affairs Manager Mukesh Patel said that Juneau serves as a kind of "mini-hub" for the region and some flights are scheduled to arrive close together to allow passengers to connect to their next flight without a long wait.

The project's first phase will be funded through a combination of passenger charges, Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement funds and a $1 million appropriation from the Alaska Legislature.

A proposition on next Tuesday's ballot would inject another $10 million into the project if voters agree to extend the temporary 1 percent sales tax, but Fritz said the airport board has not yet identified which parts of the renovation would be funded by that money.

Alaska Airlines, the only major air carrier that serves Juneau, also plans to spend about $2.5 million to build new ticket counters and a baggage conveyor system, and to install information screens around the terminal next summer.

"There is a lot of new technology we are proposing to implement and hopefully piggy-back with the airport's efforts in their improvement project," facilities Project Manager Dan MacKay said.

The 80,000-square-foot terminal has gone through several additions and renovations since it was built in 1948, but the last major work was an addition in 1984.

The airport staff plans to have a cost estimate on the final design of Phase One by mid-October and put the project out to bid by next March.

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