Booming BWI

November 27, 1994

Nothing better illustrates Baltimore-Washington International Airport's dramatic growth than what's happening this Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally the year's heaviest traveling period. Passenger volume is up a whopping 20 percent. This comes on top of what seems sure to be a record year for BWI.

What was once Baltimore's well-kept secret -- the easiest airport to use in this part of the country -- is now the fastest-growing airport in the country. Passengers may not find an abundance of close-in parking spaces any more, but they do find a much greater variety and number of flights than they used to, and often at bargain rates.

The boom in passengers, touched off by the arrival of low-fare Southwest Airlines, has a price in congestion at peak periods. Travelers who used to take last-minute arrivals at BWI for granted can't do so any longer on the busiest days. This has set state officials scrambling to keep up with and even get a little ahead of the boom in travel at BWI. Construction of major additions to the airport in the next couple of years will continue the transformation of the one-time third choice among airports in the Baltimore-Washington area into a first-rank competitor for the travel dollar in this region.

More gates for aircraft are in the works in the central part of the main terminal, earmarked for Southwest and Continental, two of the airlines that specialize in low-frills, low-cost travel. The new international terminal's gates will also be available for domestic flights when not needed by world carriers. This permits more flights to more places. More parking space is planned.

Once these major projects are out of the way, airport officials plan to improve access to the airport. Construction of the international terminal will alter the upper-level departure deck; another lane will be added to the lower-level driveway for arriving passengers. Elm Road, which parallels the airport approach road to the north, is slated for widening to four lanes. A spur linking BWI with the Central Light Rail system will give Baltimore travelers another alternative to driving there.

BWI isn't the underused facility it was a few years ago, but that is no cause for nostalgia. It's a major regional transportation hub, with all the enhanced travel facilities that means for travelers.

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