BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Regional Airport has spent the last several years sprucing up the south side airfield, constructing new taxiways and resurfacing the main runway.
Now it’s time to fix the airport’s front door.
Airport Authority commissioners Thursday approved a $2.6 million plan to improve the main terminal frontage area and roadway.
“This is the first thing a lot of people see for our region,” Airport Authority Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, Johnson City’s mayor, said of the terminal’s frontage.
The biggest change travelers may notice is TCRA aims to remove the metered parking area in front of the main terminal, although a drop-off/pickup area will remain.
“We will hear that people love the (parking) meters, ... (but) in taking the meters away, we want to improve the access,” TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson told commissioners.
Airport Authority Commissioner Dan Mahoney of Johnson City also noted the metered parking area has been popular with travelers.
“(Travelers might say) you can take my meter but you can’t take away my (airport) observation deck,” Mahoney joked.
The parking meters, said Wilson, have become a safety concern.
The rest of the plan calls for expanding and repaving the terminal roadway, covering walkways in the main parking lot, improving crosswalks and reconstructing pedestrian ramps.
Much of the work is scheduled to be funded by state and federal grants. Work on the roadway frontage is expected to begin this spring, while the bulk of the project will take place next year, Wilson said.
Many years ago, TCRA considered building a walkway raised above the roadway and going into the main terminal, but that idea is not in the frontage improvements plan.
In a related move, Airport Authority commissioners also decided to end free parking for travelers using handicapped spaces in the main parking lot as of April 1.
The parking lot generates more than 30 percent of TCRA’s annual revenues, and the airport was losing about $98,000 by allowing handicapped travelers to park free, Wilson said.
“Historically, we have allowed passengers or parkers who have disabled placards or license plates to exit that lot without paying,” Wilson noted. “That’s a program that other commercial airports in Tennessee used to do until about 2008-09. ... We will begin charging the standard public parking rate.”
Airport Authority Commissioner Ken Maness of Kingsport endorsed the move.
“There’s no relationship between the persons needing a convenient place to park and their ability to pay for using the facilities. ... That revenue is very important to us,” Maness pointed out.
Airport Authority Chairman James Rector of Bristol, Va., agreed. “If they can’t afford parking, they probably can’t afford an airline ticket,” he quipped.
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