Monday, September 27, 2004

The Wrong Terminal

Instead of razing Terminal C, RDU should renovate and expand Airport capacity in two steps:

(1) In Terminal C: (a) Expand the ticketing & security space, and infrastructure capacity to handle more airlines for all those unused gates; (b) Remodel the entire interior design of the terminal.

(2) For Terminal A, massively overhaul the terminal, perhaps with phased demolition and replacement of the two main parts.

This Step 2 is going to have to happen sooner or later anyway. Local businesses and other airport users will have to complain for an extra 4-5 years about Terminal A, because the Airport Authority is pursuing the wrong project in 2004.

Both Steps 1 and 2 should be done in ways that leave space, a generation or more in the future, for further expansions northward and southward on existing terminal structures.

Addendum, 9 P.M.: So it turns out that some people, confident enough about themselves that they don't need new airport buildings to conduct their business, think that Terminal A can be more efficiently organized without having to be demolished.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

3 Diagnoses?

Are these the three main airport problems? Comments are most welcome.
1. Terminal A is a logistical mess and needs a complete overhaul, perhaps from scratch.
2. Terminal C is dingy.
3. Terminal C cannot accommodate multiple airlines as it is, because its ticketing/baggage : gates ratio is inappropriate for a non-hub terminal.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Discrepancies in RDU's Story

Step 1: In August 2002, after acquiring the Terminal C lease from American Airlines, RDU stated its plans to renovate and expand Terminal C (note the absence of demolition from these plans) -- scroll down to Page 1 of this document.

Step 3: Today the Airport claims that its project to demolish Terminal C and start over will cost $350 million, qualified in 2003 dollars (which are already inflating). The Airport also claims that this project will cost only $1.5 million more than mere renovation and expansion would have, making the new project worth it.

Here's some quick math. The Airport is saying that the cost estimate without demolition was exactly $348,500,000, or 0.43% less. That figure does not sound like an "estimate," and the tiny differential is probably statistically insignificant. I challenge the Airport Authority to send local journalists historical documentation of the $348,500,000 figure. (Hint: Try not to get Dan Rather involved.)

The problem is Step 2: Some time between August 2002 and May 2003, the Airport dropped the renovation plan in favor of a rebuilding plan that was supposed to cost $500 million. Various references to this figure include this airport contractor's website and this USA Today story.

So, if the renovation-expansion project was going to cost $348.5 million (or less, as may be the case -- could it really be that much?), and if the Airport dropped that project in favor of a $500 million demolition-expansion project, then the Airport made that decision, Step 2, based on other factors besides costs, which were clearly going to be much higher. Step 3 came later, at least in part by May 2003, according to the USA Today article.

(Since the Airport claims that renovation-demolition was estimated at $348.5 million, then by definition, the $500 million figure refers to the different, demolition-expansion project on ACM's website above.)

Interesting Note: Before 9-11-01 and the Airport's acquisition of Terminal C's lease from American, the Airport's plan was to rebuild Terminal A (mentioned here, among other places). It seems that virtually all users agree that Terminal A requires an intense overhaul. By doing Terminal C first and instead, the Airport Authority is not only addressing the wrong problem; it is guaranteeing that hundreds of millions extra will be spent on airport construction during the next decade, and it is delaying by years the date at which this historical phase of expansion will be complete.

A suggested alternative for RDU expansion: The Airport should focus on rebuilding Terminal A, possibly from scratch. (This could include shifting driving lanes to the old parking next to the new parking deck, and bringing the ticketing part of the building out to the present drop-off lanes, and shifting baggage claim & pick-up lanes one story lower.) Reconstructing Terminal A may or may not require expanded capacity in Terminal C during construction. If so, the answer is to expand gates and ticketing northward and/or southward in Terminal C, and to widen the security-check hallway northward and/or southward; those answers (plus an interior overhaul of Terminal C) do not require demolition.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

What Can I Do?

Write a short letter to your local newspaper.

If you live in Durham or Wake County, write or call each of your County Commissioners.

And if you live in the city of Raleigh or Durham, write or call each of your City Councilmen and -women.

For all of these, contact information will be provided here soon.

NOTE: I have heard many voices sharing my concerns. But there is a lot of planning and money at stake, and even if you don't write to the newspapers and officials, others will do so in support of the Airport's plans. So it is important for people to participate through letter-writing and phone calls.

Regional Branding and Airport Aesthetics

A couple of demolition supporters cite the business value of having a sparkling airport ... or whatever they mean by wanting a new terminal for local business. I have several responses.

For one, this sounds in part like a case of airport envy. I'm not sure what Charlotte's airport has to do with us. I know that Boston's airport is very mundane, yet Boston booms.

If it's aesthetics people want, I encourage them to look at the design plans, linked in a posting below, and to form their own opinions. (I should add that design plans can change dramatically during big projects like this.) In my personal aesthetic opinion, not only are the disjointed massive curved roofs going to be very expensive. They also look dated already today. And to me, they scream inferiority complex -- "Look at what our region did to get your attention!"

I'm all for revitalizing the interior design of Terminal C. And I think that if we had an Airport Authority with multiple interior designers, instead of multiple construction company magnates, we'd be looking at a sweeping (and much less expensive) overhaul of the Terminal's interior instead of current plans. That is one positive counter-proposal that I offer.

Functionality and convenience are important. Another 4-5 years of airport construction, for an unnecessary demolition and a premature expansion, will increase dysfunctionality.

In fact, the main business complaint that I have heard about the airport involves recruiting professionals to move to the Triangle, already one of the best draws in America. I've heard a lot more complaints about all those orange barrels and the like, than about the faded posters in Terminal C.

As I've already mentioned below, local business is going to bear the burden of increased construction costs through increased strain on regional construction capacity.

And if the Airport Authority (an overlapping subset of Raleigh & Durham, Wake & Durham) comes up with $350 million, why not put that money toward existing budgets, and save local taxpayers some money? Or lower the airport costs to local businesses by lowering various user fees? Now that's a business plan.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Airport Use is Down by 22% since 2000

Even an expansion of Terminal C (as opposed to complete do-over) is clearly not urgent.

In 2003, RDU as a whole served 24% fewer passengers than 2000:

The two months of 2004 represented only about a 1.5% increase over Jan-Feb of 2003.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Press Room

Jeff Vanke’s commentary on WCHL: , “RDU Boondoggle,” July 23, 2004

RDU press release, March 18, 2004: (images)
Does this convince you of the need to spend $350 million?