Development

Think Charlotte’s airport has a lot of construction now? Just wait.

If you haven’t been to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in a few months, get ready: It might look a little different the next time you go.

The airport is one of the busiest construction sites in Charlotte, with projects totaling hundreds of millions of dollars underway. And the biggest and most potentially disruptive projects, especially the planned terminal expansion, haven’t even started yet.

The new projects will accommodate more flights at Charlotte Douglas and rising numbers of local travelers. The terminal currently sees more than 120,000 passengers a day on average, and it can get crowded, especially at peak times. Here’s a look at the biggest projects underway now and what they’ll make room for as each is completed:

▪ New parking spaces: With 28,000 public spaces, Charlotte Douglas is still expecting to see most of them filled during the busy summer travel season. The airport is building about 1,700 new, long-term spaces (the cheapest option, at $7 a day). Half of them should be complete this summer and half this fall.

▪ Concourse A North: Located just north of the current Concourse A (as you might infer from the name), this $200 million, nine-gate expansion is expected to be complete in May 2018. The new gates will be connected to Concourse A with moving walkways. Carriers besides American Airlines (which accounts for more than 90 percent of Charlotte’s daily flights) will move into Concourse A North, and American Airlines will backfill their gates. After that, Charlotte Douglas plans to start expanding Concourse A North, which will eventually total about two dozen gates.

▪ New elevated roadway: This one involves a lot of moving parts. The first five lanes of a new elevated roadway located in between the hourly parking deck and the terminal are nearly complete. Once those lanes are open later this summer, possibly in July, commercial traffic (think buses) will shift onto those lanes. Then, Charlotte Douglas will build another three elevated lanes next to those five. When those three lanes are complete in 2018, the airport will have a new, two-level, eight-lane elevated roadway in front of the terminal. The net effect of this $50 million project will be to increase the number of lanes in front of the terminal from six (three on two levels) to 16 (eight on two levels), providing a lot more space for cars and buses.

▪ Terminal lobby expansion: All of that road work will free up space for a larger terminal lobby, the area before security checkpoints that includes baggage claim, ticket counters, baggage check-in and the security lines. Opened in 1982, the terminal lobby is frequently crowded, too small to handle the exorbitant growth since then.

Estimated to cost at least $250 million, preliminary designs are underway for the terminal lobby expansion. Before construction can start, workers will tear down the existing three lanes of roadway in front of the terminal (the roadway you’re using now), shifting traffic permanently onto the new roadway.

That work is planned to start in mid-2018. Construction on the expanded terminal – the front of the structure will be bumped out into the space now occupied by the old elevated runway – will run through 2020. And with traffic shifts, changes to terminal access and an active construction zone in the terminal of one of the nation’s busiest hub airports – well, pack your patience, as Charlotte Douglas officials like to remind travelers.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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