BWI expansion favored by Senate subcommittee

March 05, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Despite intense lobbying by USAir and other airlines, a Senate budget subcommittee in Annapolis recommended yesterday that the General Assembly approve funds to expand the international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The move by the Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee is the first step in what could remain a difficult battle to secure funding for the $130 million expansion.

For the past two years, the legislature has delayed funding, insisting that state transportation officials justify the need and scope of the project.

State transportation officials say the existing, three-gate facility, known as Pier E, is inadequate to handle BWI's current overseas traffic or attract more international carriers.

But the airline industry, spearheaded by the airport's largest carrier, USAir, argues the planned expansion is an extreme case "build it and they will come."

After significant jumps in international traffic during the early 1990s, BWI has seen the number of international passengers decline.

Last year, a major European carrier, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, shifted its operation from BWI to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

"No one has asked that this project be built," Michael V. Johansen, a lobbyist with the politically well-connected law firm of Rifkin, Evans, Silver and Rozner, told the budget subcommittee yesterday.

The airlines will try to persuade the legislature that the project should be scaled back or delayed until BWI sees growth in international passengers.

"We have some room here to wait for some growth," Mr. Johansen said.

After losing more than $13 billion in the past five years, airlines nationwide are scrutinizing new airport costs, which they say have jumped 85 percent during the past 10 years. In recent weeks, the Air Transport Association, which represents most of the nation's carriers, hired the Rifkin firm to lobby Annapolis lawmakers.

"The airlines have been lobbying like crazy but we think that's smoke and mirrors," Sen. Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery Democrat who is chairman of the parent Budget and Taxation Committee, said yesterday. "We think it's in the best interest of the state to move ahead with this."

The project still must clear the full Senate and House of Delegates. Yesterday, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, told a group of businessmen that he favors the expansion.

State officials are asking the legislature to approve the sale of $61 million in revenue bonds during the 1995 fiscal year to finance the project. The bonds would be repaid by using proceeds from a $3 ticket fee charged to each BWI passenger.

Initially, Pier E would be expanded by six gates, with construction due to begin this summer and completed by December 1996. Also slated for improvement are airport ramps and roadways, the immigration and customs areas, passenger lounges and service areas.

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