Ticket counters

Ticket counters as shown in 2016 at Montrose Regional Airport. Since that time, the need for more elbow room has increased at the airport.

With grant funding in hand, Montrose Regional Airport is launching the first phase of design work necessary for terminal expansion.

Montrose County Commissioners Sue Hansen and Roger Rash on Tuesday approved a grant agreement for roughly $682,200 from the Federal Aviation Administration, with a county and state match of $37,900, each. This is for a 30-percent design phase that will help put a firm figure on actual costs of the overall terminal expansion.

The design work in this phase will not require all the money in the grant and the leftover funds will either carry forward or be taken out of the grant later. The county can save the money for a future airport project.

“We definitely know we need to expand our terminal and this is a good start,” Rash said.

The last terminal expansion was in 2012.

“It needs a lot more expansion,” Aviation Director Lloyd Arnold said later Tuesday.

“We’re about 172-percent too small. The expansion in 2012 helped us relieve some of the congestion, but right now, we need to more than double the size of the terminal, to 98,000 gross square feet.”

Expansion recommendations grew out of a consultant-facilitated airport master plan update completed a few years ago. Expansion is driven by activity levels.

The first phase is a 30-percent schematic design to determine precise electrical, plumbing and flooring needs, and other design work, that will help county staff assign costs for how much the overall expansion will be.

Any expansion would first occur from the north side of the terminal, so that the airport can remain operational when a second floor is eventually added.

“A second story is needed so we can eventually get jetways here,” Arnold said.

The bulk of commercial flights coming in during the busy season are larger craft, such as 737s, which would be better served if there were jetways. The flying public also would be better served by being able to access the airport through a sheltered jetway, instead of walking across the tarmac, including during inclement weather.

“Once we hit certain trigger points, we expand,” Arnold said, adding that the county tries to plan in advance so the airport is prepared for when the benchmarks are met.

“Once Phase I is complete, the goal is to keep up in the future. The problem is, historically, prior to 12 years ago, the airport had not kept pace with infrastructure,” Arnold said.

Infrastructure such as ramp aprons has been updated; a ramp apron expansion was completed this summer.

The airport’s digital technology capabilities have also been upgraded.

Airport and county staff planned for eventual upgrades when the 2012 expansion was done, for instance, by having fiber laid into the new terminal expansion area. When the new courtyard was constructed, it included additional conduits that will allow for enough power for the expanded terminal.

“We’re trying to preplan as much as possible to reduce costs,” said Arnold.

Since the 2012 expansion, the airport has also made such improvements as adding an outdoor baggage claim area, full kitchen and a restaurant and vendor space inside the hold room, or secure area where passengers who have been screened await departing flights.

The airport is currently preparing to expand the hold room. This expansion includes a permanent concession area; the airport is also adding another gate.

Public bidding for the hold area expansion contract opens at 2 p.m. Sept. 16, in the airport administration conference room, located in the terminal. This particular expansion project is projected to be completed by Dec. 5.

Although addressing it still a long way off, the airport needs a way to better control traffic onto and off of North Townsend Avenue. Most people leaving the airport must make a left turn across four lanes of traffic. The updated master plan process revealed the need for a traffic signal and associated road improvements.

“We eventually need to get a light out there. That is part of the long-term plan. The installation of a traffic light will help relieve congestion. There will be dedicated turn lanes in addition, and that would be for both sides of the highway,” Arnold said.

The continually soaring numbers at Montrose Regional underscore expansion needs.

“We are on pace to hit 150,000 enplanements this year. That would be another record year for the airport,” Arnold said.

Last year, about 134,000 people got onto flights at Montrose Regional and about 132,400 deplaned here.

Montrose Regional Airport is a hub for Western Slope air travel, including to Telluride.

Both the Montrose and Telluride airports benefit from the Colorado Flights Alliance, which helps bring more commercial airliners through Montrose. The public-private partnership negotiates with airlines for service into Montrose and Telluride by providing minimum revenue guarantees to carriers; these guarantees drop as flights grow.

“The CFA is a big piece of what drives folks to Montrose. What the CFA tries to do is drive demand,” Arnold said.

The alliance performs granular-level marketing, targeting areas of the country where would-be visitors most likely live and helping drive demand for flights here. Saturday flights via American Airlines through New York/La Guardia are among winter flight options this year.

“The enplanements obviously drive the need for expansion and the CFA is a big part in that,” Arnold said. “I feel there is a good synergy between the two communities of Telluride and Montrose. We’ve been working very well together.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP

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