The multibillion dollar expansion plan reflects the central role Tampa International Airport plays as an economic engine for the entire region. Tampa Bay's legislative delegation will need new energy and more unity if the airport is to win the state support necessary to keep it on the leading edge.
Airport officials unveiled a $4.1 billion plan this week for upgrades and other major improvements aimed at keeping Tampa International a growing and modern airport for the long-term. The work will come in phases. A new master plan calls for $2.5 billion in work to enable the airport to handle more passengers and flights over the next two decades. TIA expects to spend an additional $1.6 billion in coming decades to maintain or repair airport facilities.
These are huge numbers, and they represent both ambition and responsible management. The first phase of nearly $1 billion in construction includes a consolidated rental car facility south of the main terminal. Moving the rental fleet there will reduce traffic into the terminal, free up valuable space and extend the life of the main passenger area. Connecting the rental car hub to an automated people mover also will provide easier access in and out of the airport.
The plan acknowledges the airport's obligation to meet its capital needs. To millions, TIA has provided the first impression of the Tampa Bay area. With the number of international flights expanding and with the airport pursuing new domestic routes, it makes financial sense to keep Tampa International in top physical condition. The plan will help maintain TIA's long-held reputation for customer excellence, and it will be phased in with passenger demand as the budget allows. Airport CEO Joe Lopano is right that TIA must stay ahead of its competitors. And the plan will provide long-term continuity to incoming airport officials and governing board members in future years.
The airport hopes to get nearly $300 million for its first phase from the Florida Department of Transportation. That will require a coordinated effort from bay area lawmakers, who should underscore the airport's central role in serving millions along the west coast. The improvements will align with other regional transit initiatives, too, from a mass transit station in Tampa's West Shore to rail service some day between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. This is exactly the forward-looking type of transit planning the region has talked years about creating — an integrated system that moves people from bus, boat, plane, rail or car and on their way. Tampa International has laid out a vision that the region's leaders should embrace.