With double-digit growth in passengers, the state will announce today a $1.3 billion plan to expand Baltimore-Washington International Airport with new parking facilities, larger concourses, moving sidewalks and a variety of road and rail improvements to make getting to and from the airport easier.
Combine that with $500 million already earmarked for BWI improvement projects, and the state will spend $1.8 billion over the next six years, adding about 12,000 parking spaces and at least 20 gates to accommodate additional flights.
Industry officials say the plan will address the airport's growing congestion and put BWI in line with at least a half-dozen other major airports nationwide that have implemented multibillion-dollar construction projects in an effort to keep pace with record numbers of passengers.
Taking a swipe at rival Washington Dulles International Airport, Maryland transportation officials said yesterday that the plan will put BWI at the forefront of intermodal travel among area airports and be a model for the nation.
Dulles officials recently approved a $3.4 billion building initiative including many of the kinds of improvements planned for BWI.
"This is the most comprehensive BWI development plan since President Harry Truman opened the facility in 1950," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said.
Though cost and location have not been determined, long-term plans also call for an expansive train, bus and metro rail hub to be built near the airport.
The hub, which would allow air passengers to leave their cars at home and travel almost anywhere in the state after landing at BWI, would be combined with hotels and meeting spaces for business travelers.
If the vision is realized, Glendening said, passengers flying to London could check baggage at Penn Station in Baltimore or Union Station in Washington, hop a train to BWI, ride a moving sidewalk to their departure gates and meet up with their luggage in London.
"It's based on the premise that an airport should be a place to go through, not a place to go to and get stuck," Glendening said.
About $530 million of the improvements would be paid for with state transportation funds, and $600 million would come from passenger facility charges, the fees tacked onto the price of airline tickets.
The passenger fee at BWI is $3 a ticket and will be raised to $4.50 in coming months. The rest of the construction costs would be paid with federal funds and other fees.
State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari also didn't rule out the possibility of charging higher fees to airlines using the airport.
The plan calls for spending $328 million on parking improvements, including construction of a parking garage on Elm Road that would be open by 2003 and have spaces for 7,900 cars.
The airport's existing parking garage would be expanded by 2005, adding 3,000 spaces. A new surface parking lot on Elm Road and other additions would bring the total to 12,000 new spaces.
To make finding spaces easier, the new parking facilities will be equipped with computer sensors that will indicate where open spaces are.
New pedestrian bridges, moving sidewalks, road improvements and people movers designed to transport passengers from the airport's rail stations and parking facilities will cost $600 million. Porcari said the people movers won't be completed until after 2005.
The final $375 million will go toward expanding Concourse A and building a new concourse by 2002. Eventually, plans also call for widening Concourse D and expanding the airport's main terminal.
Airline officials pleased
Airlines mainly praised the plan, saying airports all over the country are in need of expansion and updating.
"The airports are realizing as a whole that more travelers than ever are taking off to new places, and it's time to start getting some things updated," said Christine Turneabe Connelly, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier at BWI with 110 daily flights.
The airline is responsible for most of the growth at the airport in recent years and expects to add nine flights at BWI by late October.
Air travel has been growing at a rapid clip worldwide. The number of people taking to the skies is 6 percent greater this year than last year, said Geneva-based Airports Council International.
Air travel in the Baltimore-Washington area has grown considerably faster.
BWI and Dulles are among the fastest-growing airports in the nation, with passenger totals rising more than 16 percent at BWI last year and about 26 percent at Dulles., The pace has accelerated this year, with BWI recording double- digit growth in every month. May was the busiest in its 50-year history, with 1.75 million passengers. Airport officials expect more than 19 million passengers this year and up to 30 million annually by 2020.