USE THIS FIRST Airport addition North wing

“We're very busy,” County Manager Jon Waschbusch said. “2019 was the biggest year in terms of passengers in the history of the airport and we are on track to exceed that in 2021.” 

Passenger traffic at Montrose County Airport has been steadily growing over the past decade. Now, the terminal itself will expand to accommodate record-setting amounts of travellers.

The Montrose County Board of Commissioners approved a $33 million construction agreement with FCI Constructors, Inc. for a terminal expansion on Sept. 15, 2021.

“We don’t approve $33 million dollar contracts very often in Montrose,” County Manager Jon Waschbusch said.

The expansion will nearly double the size of the terminal to approximately 70,000 square feet and add two additional gates. New parking lots and associated utilities are also included in the project.

Lloyd Arnold, the director of aviation, said that the start date of the construction has not yet been determined. He will be meeting with FCI Constructors next week to discuss the timeline. The construction agreement states that the project should be completed by Sept. 15, 2023.

Adding additional terminal space has been in the works for years. The airport master plan, finalized in 2017, outlines potential plans for expansion.

rendering of holding room at airport

This rendering depicts a new waiting area at the Montrose County Airport, which also includes a concourse-level bar, work stations and an indoor fireplace. 

The county issued a request for proposals in May 2021, but only received one bid from FCI Constructors. The Grand Junction-based company was founded in 1978 and has worked on other airport projects throughout the southwest U.S., such as on-call services at Denver International Airport.

After a slump during the Great Recession, the flow of passengers at the airport has been growing for the past decade.

“We’re very busy,” Waschbusch said. “2019 was the biggest year in terms of passengers in the history of the airport and we are on track to exceed that in 2021.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the flow of passengers ground to a halt. In April 2020, just 166 passengers embarked on flights from the airport, compared with 5,675 in April 2019.

However, the flow of passengers quickly bounced back and later exceeded pre-pandemic levels: in April of this year, just over 10,000 passengers departed from Montrose by plane.

CHART: Passenger departures from Montrose County Airport, January 2019-July 2021

The airport recorded over 20,000 departures in July 2021, which is just shy of the amount of travelers recorded during the winter peak in 2019. 

“Just last year, we were wondering how many years it would take to recover and get back to those pre-pandemic levels,” Waschbusch said. “We did not have to wait long for an answer in Montrose: the parking lots have been at or over 100% capacity for the majority of the summer, which is not typically the case at this time of the year.”

The airport recorded over 20,000 departures in July 2021, which is just shy of the amount of travelers recorded during the winter peak in 2019.

“It’s an extremely busy place and it’s not ski season yet,” Waschbusch remarked.

A large chunk of the project will be funded by a $15 million grant from the federal government, Waschbusch told the Daily Press. The state will also cover approximately $150,000 of the costs.

The county will foot some of the remaining bill, slated to be approximately $18 million, and the rest of the expansion will be funded by debt in the form of bonds.

“This would be the only debt for the airport. We have modeled all expenses and are comfortable with the county’s ability to service any debt that we do take on,” Waschbusch said.

Arnold affirmed that the high sticker price will be worth it in the long run. A January 2020 study from the Colorado Department of Transportation found that the Montrose airport contributes to $327 million in business revenues to the region.

“This is a good project to be taking on debt for: it’s going to help the Western Slope, the businesses on the Western Slope and this entire region,” Arnold said.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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