Here we are smack in the midst of a prolonged recession and wouldn't you know it? The state wants to spend $100 million to enlarge Baltimore-Washington International Airport. On the face of it, this sounds preposterous.
But it isn't. Expanding BWI is a smart move, one that seems certain to pay for itself as the airport gains additional international flights and travelers revel at the ease and convenience of using BWI compared to the badly congested airports south of the Potomac River.
International trade is going to be big business for the United States in the next few decades. Enlarging BWI's capacity to become a major mover of overseas visitors -- tourists as well as business executives -- could be a key to Maryland's success in attracting more foreign dollars into the state. The potential is enormous, but it will require a major expansion of existing facilities.
Most of the construction work at BWI will be eligible for matching federal funds. This should bring the state's share of the costs well below $50 million. And since the state can issue revenue bonds and transportation bonds to pay for the work, the costs can be spread over 15 years or more and be made up through additional revenue from airline fees as passenger and cargo volumes from abroad rise.
Another key step would be development of a mass transit terminal directly in the basement of the international arrivals building. This would give BWI a big advantage over its nearby competitors.
BWI has experienced a boom in overseas flights, with the addition of KLM and Icelandair to Europe, USAir to Canada and Ladeco to South America in the past year. International traffic rose one-third last year and the growth continues. Keeping up with demand is taxing BWI's facilities.
Maryland's international airport could serve as an economic engine in the '90s. Embarking now on an expansion of the international terminal would mean a 1994 opening -- in time to help spur the state's economic recovery. Especially in a recession, it is wise for state officials to look ahead. An enlarged BWI offers appealing prospects for Maryland's renewed prosperity.