A few weeks after the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport began charging higher parking fees, aviation leaders are preparing to move forward with the millions of dollars worth of repairs and improvements the new rates will fund.
“The parking garage that we currently have needs to be redone,” said Trae Welch, an East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member who also serves on the Airport Commission.
He said cracks in the concrete in the older of the airport’s two garages are allowing water to get in.
“When you have leaking ... it weakens the concrete” and causes steel to rust, said airport Director Anthony Marino. However, the issue is not so grave that the garage needs to be closed, and visitors will still be able to park in some areas during the renovation.
Marino expects the commissioners to sign the contract with an engineering firm during their next meeting on Tuesday. Engineers already have performed a small test repair to show the process will be effective in plugging the leaks.
The project also will add new lighting to the garage for safety, Welch said. Their are new options in LED lights that weren’t available when the structure was built in 1995, Marino said.
The cost of repairs and upgrades have been estimated at $5.1 million. During its last meeting, the Metro Council approved issuing bonds to pay for the work. Money generated from the increased parking fees will be used to pay off the bonds over 25 years.
This month, daily garage rates went from $10 to $12, and parking lot rates went from $7 to $9. When the new prices were announced earlier this year, aviation leaders pointed out that the cost is still lower than their competition in New Orleans, where the airport charges between $11 per day to park in the lot to up to $18.50 per day for a spot in a garage.
Marino said he hopes construction will be finished by the end of the year on the garages, which he described as “cash cows” for airports.
In the meantime, the airport — which has added parking to anticipate future growth — has enough space to accommodate visitors, even if portions of the garage have to be closed.
Customers will still have access to a garage built with nearly $50 million in bonds issued in 2005 and 2008. The money also helped pay for construction of the rental car garage and at the terminal building.
At its most recent meeting, the Metro Council also approved a plan to refinance about $45 million worth of those bonds at a more favorable rate. Marino said the refinancing will wind up saving about $5.7 million.
Other recent big-ticket purchases at the airport include the installation of a new $4.6 million landing system to guide pilots during storms and a $2.8 million project to relocate the landing zones on two runways. Both endeavors were completed last year with state and federal grants.
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