Yampa Valley Regional Airport is finally getting a much-needed face-lift, thanks indirectly to the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.
Routt County commissioners signed off this week on the first phase of the $17.8 million project. Phase one, which will cost the county $750,000, includes a 4,300-square-foot expansion of the terminal for ticketing, baggage check and baggage screening.
Officials believe work will be complete by ski season. Given what happened last year, we can only hope they are right.
Heightened baggage-screening rules prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to a mess at YVRA. When the new baggage scanners went in last winter, they took up much of the check-in area of the terminal, pushing lines outside on busy days. The temporary solution was to raise a tent where, on busy days, passengers waited for their bags to be screened.
The tent was, in the words of Airport Director Jim Parker, a "money pit." It costs about $70,000 per year to rent the tent and heat it.
Phase one solves that problem, but the tent isn't all that needs fixing. The parking situation -- with concrete barriers separating gravel lots and a confusing honor system for paying -- is atrocious. The terminal is cramped and antiquated. The terminal's size limits the number of flights -- and thus the number of markets -- the airport can serve.
We shouldn't underestimate the importance of a quality airport to Steamboat's tourist economy. Given our remote location, direct flights into Hayden are crucial to the success of the ski season. But in its current condition, any impression YVRA makes on visitors can't be good.
Phases two and three of the airport improvement project can address some of the most pressing issues. The phases include a new ticketing wing, a remodeled baggage claim area, a new jet apron, de-icing pads, road improvements and parking lot improvements.
County officials and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Advisory Board deserve credit for moving forward to address the airport's woes in a cost-effective manner. The current project is far more practical than building a new $30 million terminal, an idea floated in 2001.
While the county is about $3.4 million short of what it needs to finish phases two and three of the project, there is still time because phase two isn't scheduled to begin until 2005. Options include issuing bonds repaid by airport revenues, raising parking fees and increasing taxes.
One of the first two options -- even a combination of them -- would be preferable to a tax increase.
Whatever method of funding the county chooses, it will be money well spent. Sub-par conditions at YVRA have lingered far too long, and it is a relief to see efforts to improve those conditions starting to take off.