As the region's launchpad for tourism, the airport announced it will undergo some growing pains over the next 22 months while it builds a new Tahoe-style lobby and revamps its security, technology and baggage check-in areas.
Travelers will notice an immediate effect on traffic, as the interior travel lanes nearest to the airport lobby closed on Wednesday. During a presentation at the Sparks City Council meeting on Tuesday, airport officials said travelers should allow an extra half-hour to reach their gate.
"There are fewer road lanes today, so there will be fewer airport lines for check-in later," said Krys Bart, president and CEO of Reno-Tahoe International Airport. "We will have a dramatically improved gateway out of the airport and into the community, providing the latest in technology and convenience."
Increased space, convenience and security are the goals of the expansion. Since the heightened post-9/11 security was put in place at the airport, more than one-third of the already crowded airport lobby has been filled with baggage screening machines manned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The new systems and lobby will simplify baggage check-in from a two-step to a one-step process, eliminate overcrowding, and improves the flow of departing travelers and their baggage.
"The newly designed security and baggage belt system will offer the latest in technology and security, and the new lobby will reflect the best of northern Nevada: America's Adventure Place," Bart said.
The new lobby — planned to open in November 2009 — is set to reflect the region's tourism theme of "America's Adventure Place" using tiles in natural hues, stone-wrapped pillars, one-stop baggage check-in and better technology, including flat-screen TVs at each airline counter displaying information on flights and local tourism.
Work on the temporary lobby will begin in March, with completion set for the summer. During construction of the new lobby, the current lobby will close, a temporary structure will be built on the two inside traffic lanes and kiosks will be open in the temporary lobby. Behind the current lobby, a new baggage belt and security screening system will be built. Airport officials are classifying the system as "very sensitive security information" and declined to reveal any information about the system.
Starting at the end of May, Southwest Airlines — which comprises about half of all flights at this airport — will move to the temporary lobby, followed by the other nine airlines throughout the summer.
Moving in and out of the Reno-Tahoe airport could prove to be a challenge, as traffic lanes close in preparation of a lobby expansion and security revamp begun on Wednesday.
Airport travelers will face jammed roads, as the inside lanes alongside the terminal building will be closed.
Buses and shuttles will drop off their passengers south of the terminal, while disabled passenger pick-up and drop-off points will be located north of the skywalk.
Drivers picking up passengers are highly encouraged to use the cell phone waiting lot. For drivers who do not own cell phones, a courtesy phone will be installed, to alert arriving passengers that their ride is waiting.
To ease the baggage check-in, skycaps will begin working from the road median, and passengers will be able to enter a temporary lobby through five crosswalks.
The construction will not affect passenger access to the parking garage, customer surface parking lots and rental cars.
"During this time, our 20 ‘passenger A’s’ will be our great asset," said Trish Tucker, airport public affairs coordinator, referring to roving airport assistants. "They offer guidance, directions, answer general questions and help with the queuing process," Tucker said.
The project will cost about $60 million.
The TSA will cover between $12 million and $20 million of costs for construction and the new baggage security machines. The remaining funds will come from passenger facility charges, charged as a flat rate on airline tickets.
"We're going to be light years ahead of any other airport and that's what this community needs to be moving forward in a positive direction," said Norm Dianda, president of Q&D Construction, contractor on the project.
"We strived to make this transition as smooth and seamless as possible," said Airport Authority Vice Chairman Tom Gribbin, who noted construction time was reduced from 48 months to 22 months.
"We have a short timeline," Dianda said. "We have to deal with people 24 hours a day, and it's can't have an effect on traffic. It will be a challenge, but we will get it done on time. We will live up to the reputation we've built in this community over the last 44 years."
For more information on delays, changes and progress on construction, click on www.constructiontruths.com.