After three years of record-setting passenger activity, the Spokane International Airport has seen a sharp downturn in traffic this year as the coronavirus pandemic hammers the nation’s airline industry.
Nationwide, U.S. airlines saw a staggering 96% drop in passengers in April. And while people have begun flying more as the pandemic has persisted, passenger activity has struggled to take off. On Friday, the total number of travelers who passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at U.S. airports was 743,599. On the same date last year, the number was more than 2.7 million.
The Spokane airport has seen similar drop-offs. In April, passenger traffic was down 92%, with just under 24,000 passengers compared to 308,000 last year. In May, the most recent month that has been tabulated, traffic was off 85%.
But those declines aren’t stopping the airport from moving forward with a long-awaited plan to realign the road drivers use to drop off and pick up passengers.
Crews recently began work on a $4.6 million project, funded with a federal grant, to realign the inbound portion of Airport Drive, pushing it farther to the southwest and around the Concourse C parking area.
They intend to finish the work and open the new road in the spring. When they do, the existing, parallel section of Airport Drive will remain operational and allow travelers who are looking to park in a surface lot or one of the two garages a separate turnoff from the road.
Airport CEO Larry Krauter hailed the project’s benefits in a news release, saying it will “provide more efficient access” to the terminal, “eliminate congestion,” improve the “awkward road geometry near the C Terminal” and open up “additional land for development near the terminal area.”
The release also notes that realignment of the road has been in airport officials’ sights at least since they released the Airport Master Plan in 2014.
That plan describes Airport Drive’s reconfiguration as an opportunity “to provide additional space for infill facility development, including parking, hotels, transit and rental car facilities.”
And work on Airport Drive may not be done.
Officials also are pursuing a project that would realign the road farther to the east, bringing the inbound and outbound sections of the Airport Drive loop closer together, constructing an overpass for Spotted Road and connecting the two roads with an interchange.
A 2018 flyer indicates the project would cost just under $21 million and would “improve safety for (the airport’s) multimodal transportation system; increase connectivity and meet current and future demands from growth in air traffic and surrounding commercial, industrial, trucking, manufacturing and aerospace development in the region.”
Airport spokesman Todd Woodard said Saturday the Spotted Road-Airport Drive interchange “is still in the plan and remains a priority.”
The airport’s effort to boost its road network comes amid a flurry of activity to improve the transportation network elsewhere in the booming West Plains. Some of those completed or in-progress transit projects – including a project to expand capacity at Interstate 90 and Geiger Road – are mentioned among possible future improvements to the area road network in the 2014 master plan.
The plan also mentions a number of other potential road projects that would boost safety and connectivity at the airport, including a new I-90 overpass on Thorpe Road and an extension of 21st Avenue from Hayford Road to Flint Avenue, which West Plains planners recently suggested was a long-term goal.
Barker closures begin today
Use Barker Road or its westbound ramps to and from I-90? If so, you’ll have to find another way to get around starting today through Aug. 24, while work begins on a state Department of Transportation project.
The closure will include the intersection of Barker and the westbound I-90 on- and off-ramps, to construct the first of two roundabouts. Once the 15-day closure is complete, drivers will begin using the new roundabout while work begins on the second roundabout, likely from Aug. 24 to Sept. 4.
Due to safety concerns, crews will be restricting access to and from Barker at Boone Avenue in both directions for the duration of the closure.
The following detours will be in place:
- Drivers who use westbound I-90 and need to exit at the Barker interchange will be detoured at the Liberty Lake/Harvard Road interchange or the Sullivan Road interchange.
- Drivers needing to access westbound I-90 will use the Sullivan interchange.
Work to watch for
Wall Street will be closed between First Avenue and the railroad viaduct from Aug. 10 to Sept. 4 for Avista work. The east sidewalk also will be closed. The alley, driveway and Wells Fargo parking garage will remain open.
Work on Phase 5 of the Bigelow Gulch Urban Connector continues on Forker Road from the interchange with Bigelow Gulch and continuing south to Progress Road. The work is slated to be complete by Aug. 31.
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