McALLEN — With fewer passengers departing from McAllen-Miller International Airport, plans to expand the building’s terminal have been curtailed sharply.
Designs considered during summer 2010 showed space for three additional aircraft, bringing the terminal’s capacity to eight planes. The 95,000-square-foot addition and other improvements would have cost $57.3 million, according to estimates from URS Corporation, a San Francisco-based engineering and construction firm.
Last month, city leaders were presented with a scaled-back version with room for one additional plane. The new design would add nearly 52,000 square feet and cost $29.3 million, each roughly half the original plan.
“We’re calling it the ‘right-size’ design,” said Phil Brown, McAllen’s director of aviation.
The number of passengers departing from all three Rio Grande Valley airports peaked during 2007, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. Growth projections and terminal capacity research, influenced by blockbuster 2007 traffic, now seem unrealistic.
About 427,000 people departed from McAllen-Miller in 2007, according to airport data. This year, the airport estimates 362,000 people will depart from McAllen-Miller, a 15 percent decline.
The scaled-back expansion proposal should be released for construction bids by mid-June.
“Everybody’s being somewhat cautious and a bit conservative,” said Mark Talbot, an estate planning and probate lawyer who serves on McAllen’s Airport Advisory Board. “And also, with the expansion, we’re hoping to bring in more airlines and move in that direction.”
McAllen and the airport have been working with a consultant for several years, hoping to attract additional airlines and expanded service. The four existing airlines with service to McAllen-Miller already strain the terminal’s post-security seating area during the summer, when Allegiant flights join Continental Airlines, American Airlines and Delta planes at the terminal.
“What we’re basically getting at this stage is that there is interest, but everyone has a wait-and-see attitude,” Talbot said.
In addition to a larger terminal, with more seating and dining beyond the security checkpoint, the expansion also contains more space for the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA occupies 1,500 square feet, and would get double that after the expansion. Designs also show improvements to the airport’s baggage screening area, which would allow a third explosives-detection device.
It’s not clear when the project might be completed, and firmer estimates will be available this summer after construction companies submit bids for the work.
“It’ll obviously make it inconvenient for a while,” Brown said. “But it won’t shut down any of our operations, and it won’t cause any delays.”
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4552.