Port plans more airport improvements

The new Tri-Cities Airport terminal opened in February 2017 and the Port of Pasco is planning more improvements in coming months.

Also on the horizon are plans to develop the port’s 60-acre marine terminal area just east of the cable bridge.

The $41.9 million airport project nearly doubled the size of the terminal and brought much-needed amenity and Transportation Security Administration checkpoint improvements.

“Before, it was standing room only,” said Buck Taft, director of airports.

Randy Hayden, the port’s executive director, said he knew of several people who wouldn’t fly out of Pasco because of overcrowding issues and instead opted to drive to Spokane for an easier airport experience.

Thanks to the terminal overhaul, many of those people have returned to their hometown airport, Hayden said.

The redesigned airport has reduced bottlenecks, allowing the airport to take full advantage of all  its gates and resources, as well as provide a more smooth and comfortable experience for travelers.

Previously, aside from the coffee shop beyond TSA, the only dining option was outside the secure area. This was inconvenient for travelers who had already passed through security.

In addition to the existing dining venue, travelers can choose from three different dining options beyond security, which include a grab-and-go counter, sit-down restaurant and bar, which has been very popular, Taft said.

These centralized amenities share a common food court with expansive views of the tarmac and are equidistant from the terminal’s seven gates.

Prior to the renovation, there were three gates, and not all could operate at once due to slow-downs at TSA’s one lane.

The checkpoint now features two lanes, with the capacity to expand to four lanes in the future.

The building’s new spaciousness was intentional and enables the airport to continue to grow and accommodate the Tri-Cities’ increasing population and corresponding demand for flights.

During the past five years, the annual number of passengers in Pasco has grown by nearly 100,000.

The new terminal can expand in every direction. The ticket counter walls and the ends of the building can easily be pushed out

to add more gates and check-in space.

Taft said the overarching goal of the large-scale redesign was to establish the foundation that would place future, smaller scale expansions and updates in the range of a few million dollars to implement.

Travelers can choose from three dining options beyond the Tri-Cities Airport security checkpoint, which include a grab-and-go counter, sit-down restaurant and a bar that shares a common food court with expansive views of the tarmac. (Photo: Port of Pasco)

Travelers can choose from three dining options beyond the Tri-Cities Airport security checkpoint, which include a grab-and-go counter, sit-down restaurant and a bar that shares a common food court with expansive views of the tarmac. (Photo: Port of Pasco)

“The Tri-Cities is growing, but we want to maintain a sense of ease and the feel of a hometown airport,” Taft said.

In the meantime, Taft said things are “operating efficiently,” and that “people seem to like it.”

Taft reported that in 2018, a new TSA inline baggage system will be introduced that automates the bag screening process, allowing for processing of a larger number of bags per minute than the airport’s existing security scanners.

Under the current system, TSA agents must lift bags onto and off the scanners, then transfer luggage to conveyor belts that go out to the planes.

The new inline system places the security scanners on the same track as the belt that moves bags from ticket counter to plane, eliminating the time-consuming heavy lifting and transfer of bags from one belt to another.

If the scanner detects questionable contents, it will alert TSA staff to examine the bag.

In 2018, the port plans to add new landscaping and replace existing landscaping to the inner parking areas.

Throughout the remainder of 2017 and into 2018, the port will continue work on its pavement replacement project on the east general aviation apron, which is the parking area for general aviation users. The existing pavement dates back to World War II.

This phase covers the area near the Sullins Jet Center, one of two fixed-base operators where private jets and small craft are repaired and fueled.

The first part of the project was completed in 2016, which repaved the area in front of the Bergstrom fixed-base operation.

Other updates will focus on bringing the airport into compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s current regulations.

One of the taxiways will be realigned in 2018 to run parallel with the other taxiways and enhance safety. An extension of another runway is also on the horizon.


Airport Business Center

The port is actively marketing its new business center and hangars, on the west end of the airfield off the Highway 395-North Argent Road exit.

The 86-acre site was developed for higher-end commercial businesses that would benefit from having their own private hangar and adjoining front office space.

Gary Ballew, the port’s director of economic development and marketing, said the port would like to encourage more neighborhood retail businesses to move into the area as well.

Last month, the port commission approved a land lease with Musser Bros. Inc. auto auctioneers for one of the spaces.

The port also has received a state grant and loan to build Battelle a new hangar at the business center. Battelle’s current hangar, near the airport industrial park, does not easily accommodate the plane the company uses for the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program.

Battelle also has expressed interest in acquiring a new plane for this program, which might outsize the current hangar, and further prompted the port’s move to build a new facility for them.

“We want Battelle to stay at (the airport),” Ballew said.


Marine terminal development

Another site on the planning table is the redevelopment of a 60-acre, former tank farm/marine terminal and wharf just east of the cable bridge.

As the environmental cleanup of hydrocarbons and other contaminants leftover from the site’s earlier use as a petroleum and agricultural chemical storage and distribution center wraps up, the port is working with the city of Pasco to create a mixed use “waterfront zone” for the area.

This rezoning would be similar to riverside areas of Kennewick and Richland that contain a mixture of residential, commercial and light industrial properties.

The project aims to unite the marine terminal, adjacent boat basin marina and nearby public areas, such as Schlagel Park, as well as the surrounding neighborhood. The port’s 110-acre Osprey Pointe, which houses its corporate offices, would adjoin the development at full build-out.

The project is a high priority for both the port and city as the land is near Pasco’s urban core and main thoroughfares.

A study is scheduled late 2017 to evaluate the potential of the existing wooden industrial wharf to be converted to public use, with future overall site redevelopment plan in mind.

Ballew said the port’s current vision for the wharf is that of a public market space akin to what has been created in Wenatchee, essentially a smaller scale version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Private businesses related to the culinary arts, small manufacturers and artisans, culture, microbreweries and wine tasting rooms would be the main targets, especially small, locally-owned businesses.

The city of Pasco is also considering space for the public market in the downtown area. Both the port and city have agreed to build the market wherever it is determined to function best and have the most success.

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