Short-term fixes could be in the Durango-La Plata County Airport’s future, after the failure of a property tax increase to fund a new terminal in November.
Durango city councilors and the La Plata County commissioners asked Interim Airport Director Tony Vicari and consultants Tuesday to look into small projects that could help fix some pinch points at the airport and provide them with cost estimates.
The airport needs more space for the baggage carousel, airline staff members, airplanes to park overnight and deice and additional car parking, Vicari said. “When you list off the hot spots, that’s why we needed a new terminal,” County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said. The officials asked for short-term projects to be prioritized because funding for them is limited and will likely come from airport revenue and grants.
These projects may not be in line with long-term construction plans because some elected officials still believe construction on the east side of the terminal may be the best solution.
However, neither board is interested in putting a tax increase to fund airport construction on the November ballot, and officials agreed this is a good year to re-examine alternative funding mechanisms, construction phasing and an airport authority that could stretch across state lines to San Juan County, New Mexico.
An increase in passenger facility fees may be a good way to raise new funds, and a coalition of local governments might help encourage the Congress to increase the cap on those fees, Commissioner Brad Blake said.
A public-private partnership could be another funding avenue that could help raise funds for a new terminal, Airport Commissioner Roger Zalneraitis said.
The Federal Aviation Administration could still fund between $35 million to $38 million in airport improvements, Vicari said. But local governments would still need additional revenue sources to match those grants and to help pay for projects not eligible for FAA funding, such as new parking lots.
This is a good time to be revisiting plans for the airport because the number of passengers boarding planes has plateaued compared with the last 10 years, Vicari said.
“What we have right now is a period of stable traffic,” he said.
The most pressing project could be a new intersection at Colorado Highway 172 and the airport access road.
An ongoing environmental assessment scheduled to be finished in 2018 will help determine what that road alignment will look like, County Manager Joe Kerby said.