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What's being done about traffic as Austin airport anticipates record-breaking 20M passengers in 2022


Stalled cars, full parking garages and drivers anxiously trying to weave out of the right-most lane after dropping off a loved one for a flight. It's a sight that's become increasingly more common at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

As travel bounced back from pandemic lows, airport activity has been bustling: The top five busiest days in airport history are within the last two and a half years, with three of them in 2021. This past summer saw a travel frenzy, even as the Delta variant surged. And the holiday season brought recommendations for domestic travelers to arrive two hours before their flights as they faced long wait times and delays.

Airport expansion is crucial as travel demand soars and and pandemic recovery happens faster than the airport says it had initially anticipated. Through its 2040 Master Plan, the airport is addressing the high volume of traffic and the coming months and years will see improvements to the Barbara Jordan Terminal.

(Claire Partain/Austonia)

The plan includes a West Gate expansion with a tentative completion in late 2023 or early 2024 and a Gate 13 that may be ready in the fall this year. Plus, a new concourse. The midfield concourse—which will include at least 10 new gates and two new taxiways—doesn’t have a target completion or start date.

Tracy Thompson, the chief officer for administration and external affairs at the airport, has said it’ll require utility infrastructure work in the airfield to build it and that once done, it will be connected by a tunnel that Thompson described as expandable.

ABIA spokesperson Sam Haynes says they're focused on pre-construction and enabling work to get to the point where it's ready to be built.

As for costs, Haynes noted the airport often budgets out projects in phases. So for the concourse and the West Gate expansion, City Council recently approved a contract authorization with an engineering firm for pre-construction activities. That cost is $46 million, but the final price tag hasn't been decided yet.

Meanwhile, passenger estimates continue to grow. Early projections for the year indicated 17.3 million passengers, but that figure is now 20 million. By 2037, ABIA anticipates it'll reach 31 million annual passengers.

(Claire Partain/Austonia)

When it comes to managing traffic in the meantime, Haynes says the airport uses a combination of sharing tips and info with passengers on the ground to alleviate congestion.

During peak travel periods, ground transportation controllers direct traffic. With drivers able to drop off passengers on either the upper or lower levels, the airport recommends that drivers use whichever option is least congested.

For those looking to leave their car behind while they head to their destination, the airport has an economy lot and two garages.

Travelers may find ease using the newer blue garage that comes fitted with kiosks that can locate your car when given the license plate number.

This garage is also coordinated with an app that lets drivers see availability on all levels in real-time so drivers can avoid going up and down rows in search of a spot.

But this most recent holiday season, the garage was full, leaving travelers with the pricier red garage that costs $27 a day. Still, the steeper cost comes with the closest parking option to the Barbara Jordan Terminal and is directly across from baggage claim.


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