After experiencing its busiest year to date, Dane County Regional Airport announced a multi-year project geared toward updating and expanding the airport’s terminal and infrastructure.

More than 1.8 million passengers went through the airport in 2017, and these numbers are expected to rise to more than 2 million in the coming years, DCRA spokesperson Brent S. Kyzer-McHenry said. 

“We’re nearing two million passengers hopefully this year, and so, with that, comes bigger planes, more destinations and more passengers,” Kyzer-McHenry said.

According to a Dane County press release, DCRA added Las Vegas to its nonstop flights in 2017, and Philadelphia and San Francisco are to be added soon. The highly anticipated nonstop flights to San Francisco will begin June 7. 

Kyzer-McHenry believes after renovations are complete, more nonstop flights will be added. Phase one of renovations is budgeted for $25 million.

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For this year, the airport will select consultants to complete the design, engineering and architecture, and will create a timeline for the rest of the project, the release said.

Additionally, renovations this year will focus on updating the nearly 20-year old jet bridges connecting planes to the building. The new bridges will be fully renovated and include a power and air-conditioning/heating system, Kyzer-McHenry said.

Kyzer-McHenry believes these bridges will accomplish more than just fixing the old ones.

“[We won’t] have to run a jet fuel engine to keep the plane warm or cool, so it actually creates an eco-friendly alternative,” Kyzer-McHenry said. “The heating and cooling system of the airport will be supplying it to the airplane, and we won’t have an idling plane sitting outside of our jet bridges.”

In addition to the new jet bridges, plans include adding more seating space to the gate areas, renovating restroom facilities and dining areas, changing the heating and cooling systems and making sure the safety and security systems are up to date, Kyzer-McHenry said.

These renovations are set to begin after the jet bridges and are in an effort to keep up with the growing number of passengers, Kyzer-McHenry said.

“[We are] trying to make sure that moving into the future, we’re eco-friendly, heating and cooling in an efficient manner, and keeping up with the passengers having a healthy and comfortable experience in our airport,” Kyzer-McHenry said.

Kyzer-McHenry believes while these changes will be extensive, they should not interfere with the number of flights leaving DCRA. He credits this to the fact that the project will be completed in increments, so passengers are affected as minimally as possible.

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According to the release, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi believes the renovations will be good for Dane County as there are many travelers and businesspeople who come to the area. Additionally, Parisi believes the additions could bring more jobs to Dane County.

Kyzer-McHenry agrees with this, saying it isn’t just the construction which will add jobs but the finished facility as well.

“The jobs that will grow with the airport, are the support functions from the airport — airline employees, restaurants and gift shops employees, safety and security personnel and TSA — all of those jobs are going to have to grow and expand because passengers will grow and expand,” Kyzer-McHenry said.

Kyzer-McHenry believes that the number of jobs is one of the exciting pieces about this project because of the boost in jobs after the construction period.

University of Wisconsin economics professor Noah Williams believes the most exciting part of this project is the commercial benefits. 

“The more important economic impact would come with the increased travel and connectivity that the renovation would allow,” Williams said. “There is some evidence in the literature that increased airport connectivity leads to increases in employment, population and productivity in the metro area surrounding the airport.”

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The Wisconsin Tech Council has been working on gaining a nonstop flight from San Francisco, in the hopes of driving more investment in the state, Williams said.

Studies in the U.S. show increased airport connectivity is an important predictor of population and employment growth, Williams said.

“These gains must be weighed against the direct costs of expansion, but also the potential congestion costs, and potential environmental and noise pollution,” Williams said. “Nonetheless, it seems that airport expansion is usually associated with higher living standards and a stronger economy, although the direction of causation is not always clear.”

Kyzer-McHenry believes the project should be completed by 2020, but he added this could change depending on construction and design.