A new terminal for the Lafayette Regional Airport will help make Lafayette a major city, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said during a Thursday groundbreaking ceremony.
Cassidy, along with Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, spoke during the ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the $90 million, 110,000-square-foot terminal and recognize the local, state and federal contributions. The building will replace the current 62,000-square-foot terminal, which is about 60 years old.
Work will begin Monday and is expected to be complete in 24 months, airport director Steve Picou said. The new terminal will have five gates, up from the four at the current terminal.
“You cannot be a major city without a major airport — period, end of story,” Cassidy said. “The city of Lafayette and the people of Lafayette stepped forward. They stepped forward to an economic vision which has Lafayette as a major city.”
The ceremony also celebrated the progress made in recent years to get to Thursday’s groundbreaking, including the 1-cent sales tax collected in Lafayette Parish over eight months in 2015 that generated almost $34 million, airport board chairman Valerie Garrett noted.
The airport landed federal grant money and also contributed its own funds to help get the project moving. It also secured funding from the Federal Aviation Administration with help from Cassidy’s office.
“This is not something we did ourselves,” Picou said. “We went to Washington, and (Cassidy) told one of his staffers to get in the car and go to the FAA. And that worked. We walked in there with zero dollars on the table. A year later, there was $20 million on the table.”
The state chipped in $13.5 million to the project, and it was part of overall improvements being done at airports around the state, Edwards said. Upgrades have been at airports in Alexandria and Lake Charles, and officials in New Orleans will next year open a $1 billion new terminal.
The work in Lafayette will benefit the jobs currently connected to the airport and the 300 more on the way for construction, he said.
“I commend the Lafayette Parish leadership for making this possible, for finding the funding necessary and for being visionary and innovative,” Edwards said. “In fact, all the people of Lafayette. That (sales tax) was incredible. This community is setting a fine example, and I can’t wait to come back and celebrate with you all.”
The improvements come as the terminal is experiencing growth in passenger traffic. FAA data indicated in 2016 that the Lafayette airport was the fourth-busiest in Louisiana but had the smallest square footage to operate.
The airport is also working with Higgins’ office to improve wait times moving through security screening. Screening delays have caused many passengers to miss their flights, and officials have requested either an additional security lane or add staff during peak hours.
“We’re going to overcome the challenges with the current growth,” Higgins said. “We had a productive meeting on Monday. Just be aware that we’re going to handle that. We’re going to work through all the necessary steps and address that challenge.”