International terminal, light rail operational at BWI $139 million wing took two years to construct

December 07, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

As a traveling executive for a national building supplies company, Baltimore native Bill Hoshall says he's seen a lot of airports over the years.

Yesterday, sitting in a lounge at the new international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he felt a twinge of hometown pride.

"It's good to see Baltimore take a progressive step for a change," he said, looking around the $139 million terminal, with its new light rail stop. "It's attempting to become a leader instead of a follower."

"This is very nice. There's easy access. The parking works. It really makes the airport complete."

Hoshall and a companion, Cindy Burl, were passengers on the inaugural flight out of the Gov. William Donald Schaefer International Terminal, a Mexicana Airlines charter to Cancun that departed yesterday.

The state-owned terminal was dedicated Friday and began operations yesterday, with a schedule of nine incoming and eight outgoing flights. Departure and destination points included London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Aruba, Cancun, Mexico; and the Azores.

The state's Mass Transit Administration also began operating three stations on Central Maryland's light rail line -- at BWI Airport, the BWI Business District in Anne Arundel County and at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore.

Those extensions represent the final phases of a $106 million expansion of the light rail line that included a Hunt Valley extension that opened in September.

Compared with Friday's opening ceremonies for the airport and the light rail line, which drew more than 500 people and included a rousing rendition of "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder," yesterday's start-up was low-key.

Under construction for more than two years, the terminal opened with 52 ticket counters and six boarding gates, and can be expanded. The airlines moved their ticketing machines and other equipment from the old international terminal to the new one overnight, while Adler Display put up holiday decorations.

Early yesterday, technicians were hooking up computers at certain airlines, so some agents had to process tickets manually in the beginning.

Air Jamaica hired a musician to serenade morning passengers with reggae, and the Maryland Aviation Administration provided cake and other treats. BWI Administrator Theodore E. Mathison and other top agency officials arrived early yesterday to make sure the change went smoothly.

Many of the travelers praised the new terminal, which features a pyramidal skylight 90 feet above the ground.

For a place that just opened, "there hasn't been much confusion and chaos," marveled Hy Schwartz, who was traveling to Mexico with his wife, Adrienne, and granddaughter, Alexa. "It doesn't seem like the first day."

First-day ridership on the new sections of the light rail route appeared to be light. Many of the first passengers were airport employees or rail buffs who wanted to ride the expanded route before the weekday commuters.

One of the rail buffs was John Hoyt, a retired radio engineer who lives in Hampden.

"So far, it's OK," Hoyt said, after a trip from Baltimore's Cultural Center to BWI and back to Penn Station. "They're getting all the bugs out of it. Next time I'm going to bring my camcorder."

Robert Kalakay a resident of Northeast Baltimore , went to the airport by light rail so he could rent a car. He said he owns a vehicle but was planning to drive to Connecticut over the weekend and wanted to put mileage on a rental car instead.

"I took a No. 15 bus to Camden Station, and then caught the light rail to the airport," he said. "Everything worked out fine."

MTA spokesman Frank Fulton said no problems occurred and the cars ran on schedule. He said he had no firm ridership figures for the first day but the extensions are expected to attract 4,000 daily riders within several years.

Before the extensions opened, the line carried about 22,000 riders daily. Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator for marketing and development at BWI, said the new light rail link could become an attraction for passengers with a long layover, by enabling them to visit downtown Baltimore briefly if they have time between flights. He also suggested that many of BWI's 10,000 employees would use it.

Perhaps the biggest glitch at the new terminal yesterday involved Air Jamaica, which had canceled a flight on Friday and put many of the passengers in a hotel overnight. Early yesterday, passengers from the delayed flight were back at the airport, waiting for the next flight and angry about the delay. Some couldn't get flights yesterday, either, and they were angry.

"I'm glad to be part of the first major disaster at the new terminal," said Billy Bush, a radio disc jockey from Washington who was delayed with a friend, Sydney Davis. "The way they've treated us is inexcusable," he said.

"It may be a new terminal, but it's not a very good start for us," said Kelvin Harris, an architect from Washington. "Our vacation was four days and three nights, and we've lost a day and half already."

Lorna Hentley, station manager for Air Jamaica, said the delay was caused by problems related to the registration of a plane, not the switch to the new terminal. She said the airline was doing all it could to accommodate passengers.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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