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Tampa Airport Master Plan: TIA alters huge expansion plans, makes your life easier

5:19 PM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Tampa International Airport has rethought its massive expansion plans, which should make things much easier on you.

Planners at TIA have been expecting to build a giant expansion for years. It would add a mountain of confusion for you.

Some passengers would use an entirely different airport entrance, and there would be more baggage claims and more drop off locations to keep track of, in a distant part of the airport.

Plus, this proposed North Terminal would cost a mountain of money to build: $1 billion, at a minimum -- rising to $2.6 billion when it's done.

Thursday, airport managers unveiled a Plan B.

In a board meeting, analysts told the leaders of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority -- which runs the airport -- the new Master Plan would save a substantial amount of money and cut down on confusion.

Managers now intend to expand the existing terminal building more or less on its current footprint, promising to make it both bigger and better for the people who use it.

Outside the board meeting, Paul Taylor and a friend stood with a colorful sign welcoming "Susie-Q." That's the nickname Paul gave his sister Susan when they were kids.

But the area where he waited for her to step off the monorail is predicted to be the most clogged section of the airport over the next 20 years.

The new plan shared Thursday will fix that problem and several others on the horizon.

Large, open decks near the monorail stops where Paul stood with his sign will be enclosed. That move should handle double the number of anxious meeters and greeters waiting for arrivals.

To fight future security clogs, they'll move half of the airport's TSA screening lines. The checkpoints will go into a vast, newly built area that will become part of the floor where the monorails pick up passengers.

Southwest and AirTran -- which are in the process of merging together -- are Tampa International Airport's busiest airlines. Their gates will be expanded.

There's even a plan to transform empty Tarmac just to the north of the existing terminal. The area has enough space for a new international complex, handling gates, customs, duty free shopping, and just about everything international flights need.

The airport's big picture: Handle twice the fliers they do today -- 35 million a year by 2041 -- but still keep Tampa's airport feeling like a friendly gateway to the friendly skies.

Costs and timeframes aren't set yet. Costs will become clearer next year, after the public and airport communities help shape the details of the plan, TIA spokeswoman Janet Zink said.

In a change from the past, the rethought expansion projects won't be based on specific years, Zink said. Instead, they'll focus on projections of the number of passengers expected to come through the airport in the future, which can fluctuate.

There's a public meeting next week to share the new Master Plan and get your input on the ideas. It's on Wednesday, December 12th at 6 p.m. at the Seminole Heights Garden Center.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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