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Dave Olson, Published December 12 2013

Fargo Airport Authority puts parking ramp idea on hold

FARGO – November was the 13th consecutive month Fargo’s Hector International Airport experienced record-setting boardings, and 2013 is on pace to be the airport’s busiest year ever.

Many of those travelers park their vehicles at the airport and that has officials in a quandary: how to expand parking without making the walk to the terminal intolerable?

One proposed solution – a parking ramp of 1,000 to 1,200 stalls – is on hold, said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority.

The reality of a parking ramp costing between $20 million and $25 million “kind of sank in, in terms of our ability financially to support that,” Dobberstein said

Before reaching a consensus to park the ramp option, the Airport Authority interviewed three architectural firms that developed proposals for a ramp.

With a ramp sidelined for now, Dobberstein said the question becomes how much additional area to pave and when the work should happen.

A major paving project could start in summer 2015 or as early as next summer, according to Dobberstein, who said the aim is to provide enough parking to cover peak travel times.

These days, that is around March, when the airport’s estimated 2,100 parking spaces nearly fill up.

“March is when we’re overwhelmed with passengers and vehicles,” Dobberstein said. “Allegiant (Air) has more service than ever before and we’re trying to plan around that.”

Airport numbers show that between Jan. 1 and the end of November, 362,343 passengers boarded at Hector International, an 8.7 percent increase over the same time period last year.

It makes for a busy airport. But aside from anecdotal comments heard around the terminal, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of complaining about long walks from the parking lot, said Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Everyone would like to have closer parking in cold weather, but I completely defer to their judgment,” said Johnson, referring to airport officials and the decision to wait on any parking ramp plans.

“They’re going to do what’s best for that airport. It’s a well-run facility,” Johnson said.

Dobberstein said the airport has other infrastructure concerns in addition to parking, including the need for more gates beyond the five the airport now has.

“Do we add one or two more gates in the next few years? At least one more gate would be nice,” Dobberstein said.

The airport is also working on completing a multimillion-dollar project to replace a taxiway, he said.

When a decision is made regarding the next parking lot project, Dobberstein said there will likely be discussion about offering shuttle service during certain times of the year.

Also, he said, “We have to discuss what rate would we charge per day that would entice people to park there.

“If a shuttle is running, great,” he said. “If not, are they willing to walk that distance?”

In the meantime, the Airport Authority is looking to put aside money that could be put toward a parking ramp in the future.

“We’re looking at setting up a parking lot reserve, or a fund, where we could put money each year to start to build a fund that, if we decide to do this ramp, could lower the amount of bonds we’d have to issue,” Dobberstein said.

He also said current parking surfaces will need attention as they get older.

“At some point, they’re going to need a mill and overlay and some major maintenance. We’ll have to save for that rainy day as well,” Dobberstein said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555