BWI plans more growth

Airport: The airport is in the midst of a $1.8 billion expansion.

May 16, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport has grown from a sleepy airfield nestled among strawberry patches a few decades ago to a bustling hub for regional travelers.

Passengers from as far as Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania routinely choose the airport for its low fares, thanks to budget carriers such as Southwest and AirTran. Nearly 50,000 people pass through BWI each day, and that number seems to be growing each year.

The airport is poised to get even bigger to keep up with projected business growth. A $1.8 billion expansion is well under way, bringing the airport new gates, more restaurants, increased parking and more flight choices.

The expansion is to be finished in 2006, but several changes at the Linthicum airport are apparent. A 93-acre rental car facility opened in December, freeing up spots in the short-term garage that were used for rental cars. Shuttle buses powered by natural gas ferry passengers to the new facility, in the Harmans neighborhood, about every 10 minutes.

"With the amount of traveling these buses do, it's nice to know that we're doing something good for the environment at the same time," said BWI spokeswoman Tracy Newman.

Employee parking has also moved into Harmans, in the form of a 3,400-space parking lot.

Harmans residents have noticed the changes as the rural farms that surrounded them have given way to more airport facilities. The airport's neighbors' committee is working with residents to make sure they're aware of changes.

Passengers will also notice the expanded parking options at BWI. A new daily garage has opened near the Sheraton hotel, offering 8,400 spots. The garage features the computerized "smart park" technology that guides drivers to open spaces.

The first of several new skywalks opened this year, connecting the garage to the concourse.

"Now people can travel from the hourly garage to the terminal without having to walk across the roadways," Newman said.

The airport has improved its signs, using bold colors such as yellow and green that are familiar to travelers who have been to other airports.

And soon, patrons will notice many new concessions in the terminal. BWI is going to expand its offerings to include more shops and restaurants. Currently, the airport has a deli, a Burger King and several souvenir shops.

BWI still is trying to balance its growth with security needs. Not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, BWI was named a model airport for the newly created Transportation Security Administration to test its new technologies. Consultants experimented with techniques to make the lines move efficiently, including using theme-park-style lines and flat-screen televisions to give people instructions.

Some of those trained at BWI moved to other airports and, for a time last year, the lines moved slowly again. But TSA brought in reinforcements, and the checkpoint lines are moving faster.

"Things are starting to pick up," Newman said. "We've been working really closely with TSA to make sure they have what they need."

TSA and BWI officials have said being prepared is key to moving through the lines quickly. They recommend packing all sharp objects in checked luggage. The TSA Web site, www.tsa.gov, gives updates on what is allowed on board airplanes and what isn't. Also, the airport's Web site, www.bwiairport.com, offers traveler tips.

BWI officials are recommending that passengers arrive about 90 minutes before a flight. If travelers arrive much earlier than that, they say, lines can back up.

"Sometimes people get here too early," Newman said, "and everything kind of plays off that."

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