Tampa airport launches $187 million curbside expansion

The number of pickup and drop-off lanes will be doubled from 16 to 32 over the next five years.
Published July 9
Updated July 9

TAMPA — Joe Lopano flies a lot for his job as chief executive officer at Tampa International Airport, so he recently used airport pickup and drop-off lanes at Atlanta, Boston and Chicago.

"It was pretty miserable," he said, "and they don't have any room to expand."

But that's not the case at Tampa International, which on Tuesday kicked off a $187 million project to double the number of curbside lanes from 16 to 32 over the next five years.

"We're seeing what's coming at us," a projected 34 million passengers a year, up from the 21 million the airport sees now, Lopano said, "and we're being proactive in preparing for the future."

The project, part of the second phase of the airport's $2 billion master plan, is designed to create a new set of dedicated lanes for passengers who have only carry-on bags next to the existing curbside lanes, which will be for passengers who need to load or unload checked baggage. The goal is that travelers who come and go in a matter of seconds shouldn't get tangled up in traffic with families or slower-moving passengers who have lots of bags, need help or spend more time at the curb.

"It should be a more comfortable experience for both," airport executive vice president of facilities Al Illustrato said.

The first phase of the expansion wrapped up last year and was largely about unclogging traffic around the terminal. So rental car operations were moved to a massive new rental car center bigger than International Plaza that's connected to the main terminal by a 1.4-mile SkyConnect train. That phase cost about $979 million and came in within 1 percent of the budgeted cost.

'THE TRANSFORMATION': Tampa International's new billion-dollar expansion creates a new airport experience'

The second phase will cost an estimated $543 million and is focused on growing the airport's options for users. So in addition to the new curbsides, it will include a 35-acre commercial development, the SkyCenter, next to the new rental car center. Already under construction, that project will feature a 9-story office building, a hotel, a convenience store with gas station, and connections to transit and a network of trails on both sides of Tampa Bay. The new curbsides and SkyCenter also will include $3.1 million in public art.

A third phase of the expansion envisions the construction of a new airside with 16 gates that can handle domestic or international flights.

But first, the curbsides. Eight new lanes, four for arrivals and four for departures, are expected to make their debut on the blue side of the terminal in 2022. The eight new lanes on the red side aren't scheduled to be done until 2024 because the airport also has to demolish the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority's existing administrative offices and build a new, more energy-efficient central utilities plant and loading dock for concessions,

Airport officials and executives with the design-and-build team of Hensel Phelps Construction and HNTB said they would keep construction from impinging on airport operations and would let everyone know what to expect in advance.

"Just like in phase one, we're going to be busy," Lopano said, "but we're going to try to keep our customers really happy."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times