A backpack on his shoulders and sandals on his feet, Healdsburg sculptor T Barney was waiting for his luggage to arrive Wednesday at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, with only a few dozen other travelers on hand.
Barney, who flies out of the local airport about eight times a year, said the terminal is rarely crowded. But if there were more than seven flights a day — a prospect he favors in hopes it would cut down on delays — Barney said a larger terminal might be justified.
“I would vote for the expansion,” he said.
But he won’t have to, since the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved financing this week for a $20 million project that will more than double the size of the terminal and the number of parking spaces at the west end of Airport Boulevard.
Nor will taxpayers foot the bill, since the financial plan approved Tuesday involves a series of loans from the county treasury that will be repaid by airport revenues, officials said. Revenue this year is just over $5.5 million.
“This is really a big deal,” said Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the airport. “Right now the airport is bursting at the seams.”
On weekends, when the long-term parking lot typically fills up and an unpaved overflow lot is opened, “people are rolling their luggage through dirt,” he said.
With more passengers using the airport than ever and plans to boost the number of flights over the next 14 years, the pending expansion is “not just going forward, it’s (a matter of) catching up,” Gore said.
The county-owned airport, currently served by Alaska Airlines with seven flights a day and Allegiant Airlines with four flights a week, is on its way to a record of 320,000 passengers this year, breaking the previous record of 263,142 passengers last year and nearly triple the 109,082 passengers in 2007, the year Alaska started local service.
The airport master plan, updated in 2012, forecast as many as 600,000 passengers in 2030, a volume that would exceed the capacity of the planned expansion of the terminal from 15,000 to 34,000 square feet, making it nearly the same size as the new Olivers Market in Windsor.
“We are building what we can afford now to make the experience better for users and to accommodate additional airlines’ flights,” said Jon Stout, the airport manager.
The expanded terminal, expected to cost $12 million to $14 million and to open in early 2019, will be designed to allow future expansion up to 100,000 square feet, he said. While construction is underway, a $700,000 tent-style temporary space will accommodate security screening and passenger waiting.
The $4 million parking lot expansion involves paving a 4-acre area that includes the overflow lot, giving the airport a total of 450 to 500 spaces that should be ready by late 2017, Stout said. The financial plan envisions a final $20 million bond, enough to cover cost increases, he said.
Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said it makes sense to prepare for more people flying in and out of Wine Country.
“We know the trend is for more travel. The world is flying in increasing numbers,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a demand for more service.”