TAMPA — There are big changes coming to Tampa International Airport, and that means big changes for people who use the airport.
Starting in December, the airport will turn into a massive construction zone that will affect how people will access the airsides from inside the main terminal and also how they'll be able to catch a cab or bus out of TIA.
"We're doing everything in our power to minimize any potential impacts," airport spokesman Danny Valentine said.
Earlier this year the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority approved a $943 million plan to expand, renovate and upgrade the airport by 2017.
The airport will build a 2.3 million-square-foot consolidated rental car facility south of the main building that will be connected by a new 1.3-mile automated people mover.
The main terminal itself will also be renovated and expanded by 55,000 square feet, creating more space to build new concession options.
It's the biggest project at TIA since the main terminal opened in 1971.
The first change will be on the ground-floor baggage claim area on the east side of the terminal. On Dec. 2, the airport will close the taxi and bus stands there.
Anyone seeking those transportation options will be directed to the west side of the baggage claim area. The airport plans to hire a dozen new customer service representatives to stand in baggage claim and help people get around.
Drivers pulling out of the curbsides there will also have to watch out for increased taxi and bus traffic merging onto the George J. Bean Parkway.
On Jan. 8, construction will move to the east side of the third-floor main terminal. That end of the airport, where the shuttles take passengers to Airsides A and C, will be blocked by a large construction barrier while workers expand the terminal footprint on that end. That's also where the entrance to the new automated people mover will go.
United Airlines is in Airside A, while Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways are in Airside C. Currently two shuttles run constantly to each airside. When construction starts only one airside shuttle will operate.
Instead of waiting 49 seconds for a shuttle, Valentine said, the wait time will be two minutes. Customer service people will also be stationed there.
"They'll be located there as well, making sure everything is running smoothly," Valentine said, "and making sure people aren't holding the doors open. That's been a problem."
Passengers are allowed to use the pedestrian bridges to walk between the terminal and the airsides, and Valentine said the airport will soon turn them into covered walkways.
The smoking deck on the east end of the terminal will also be closed during construction.
In May 2015, construction will start to affect traffic at TIA. The airport is replacing an overpass at the parkway that planes use to move from one end of the airport to the other, and it also needs to make room for the tracks for the new automated people mover.
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Traffic on the George J. Bean Parkway there will be rerouted to a temporary roadway that will be built over the taxiway. Incoming traffic will stay at three lanes on the temporary road, but outgoing traffic will be reduced to two lanes.
However, the airport's expansion plans won't affect the blue and red curbsides drivers use to drop off and pick up passengers.
Things will really get messy on the third-floor terminal when work on the west end starts in August 2015 before the east end is finished.
Next year TIA will also start tearing down the old concession spaces in the terminal and airsides and building new ones.
Patrons can expect more changes in how they use TIA as construction runs through 2017.
"There's going to be a ton of changes that are going to affect the passengers in the near future," Valentine said. "We want to get the word out that there are going to be some changes coming to the airport as we expand and grow."
Contact Jamal Thalji at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.