Steamboat Springs A crowd of almost 200 people turned out at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Wednesday night to mark the completion of 11 years and $26.2 million of passenger terminal improvements that have brought a greatly expanded passenger check-in area, an automated parking payment system, a second baggage carousel and a handsome new full-service restaurant.
Routt County Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Monger told the gathering that he was overwhelmed by the turnout and the accomplishments.
“Shortly after I was elected for the first time in 2000, I received a quick lesson in what a big investment the airport is in our economy,” Monger said. “The airport is an important asset to Routt County, to west Routt and to Moffat County. This wouldn’t have happened without all of the partnerships involved.”
The large majority of the funds to build the terminal expansion came from the Federal Aviation Administration, but the Colorado Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division also has contributed $1.3 million in grants for a variety of projects. CDOT Aeronautics Director David Gordon told those at the gathering that it was rewarding to observe firsthand how much the community values the airport. He said a 2008 economic study by CDOT determined that YVRA directly and indirectly supports 4,500 jobs in the region with a combined payroll of $133 million.
“The whole valley supports this airport, and it’s very encouraging to see a local community appreciate its value to the local economy,” Gordon said.
Chairman of the Yampa Valley Airport Commission Ray Beck said that among 76 airports in Colorado, 16 are commercial airports and that among those, YVRA is the sixth busiest.
The airport saw 107,739 arriving passengers in 2011, down from 110,557 in 2010, according to county records.
YVRA terminal timeline
■ Pre-2001: When a consultant estimated the cost of tearing down the old terminal, moving Routt County Road 51A and building a new terminal from scratch at $38 million, officials focused instead on adding onto the existing terminal.
■ 2001: Even knowing they likely could count on the Federal Aviation Administration covering 90 percent of the terminal expansion, county officials worried the cost was too high and would eat up all of the federal grants for projects such as mandatory runway overlays.
■ 2002: Airport officials resorted to renting a party tent to allow departing passengers to wait in line out of the weather after federal officials insisted the airport make more room for baggage screening devices able to detect explosives in the wake of 9/11.
■ 2003: The county moved ahead with the $1.1 million Phase 1 of the expansion without knowing whether it could fund the entire multiyear terminal expansion. The 4,300-square-foot expansion eliminated the need for departing passengers to wait under the tent and created new ticketing, baggage check-in and screening areas.
■ 2004: An increase in the number of arriving passengers was giving the county more revenue to fund the airport, but Finance Director Dan Strnad worked with consultants to help the county plan for construction of Phase 2 at the same time it was building a new justice center. The county borrowed $6 million and used the existing terminal as collateral. That loan is about to be refinanced this year.
■ 2004-05: With the Routt County Board of Commissioners pressing for the end of annual general fund subsidies of $300,000 to $450,000, airport officials began to realize that building expanded ticketing and office spaces the airlines were asking for would increase lease payments sufficiently to make the airport self-sufficient.
■ 2005: The county broke ground on the $15.8 million Phase 2, which created a much larger passenger check-in area. The 23,500-square-foot addition doubled the size of the terminal and allowed the check-in area from Phase 1 to be repurposed to accommodate rental car desks and space for a future second baggage carousel in Phase 3. The work also included expanded aircraft parking for Boeing 757s.
■ 2005-06: The long-overdue paving of airport parking areas was completed, and the county installed automated parking lot payment gates that increased parking revenues from about $100,000 annually to nearly $300,000. It took the airport and its supplier several months to get the kinks worked out of the automated system.
■ 2007: The county and its general contractor pushed the opening date of the Phase 2 expansion back from Dec. 15 to Feb. 12, 2008, in time for the busy Presidents Day weekend at the airport.
■ 2010: YVRA officials pushed ahead with $9.3 million Phase 3 with general contractor Holmquist-Lorenz Construction breaking ground. The project created a new baggage carousel and a main-level, full-service restaurant, as well as second-story offices for the airlines and airport management.
■ 2012: YVRA hosted a dedication of the completed terminal at the end of an 11-year project often delayed when the U.S. Congress postponed annual funding for the FAA.
■ Final cost: The three phases of airport terminal expansion at YVRA cost a combined $26.2 million. Grants primarily from the FAA, but also from the Colorado Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, kept the county’s share of the cost at or below about 10 percent.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com