CARY — Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) has bold expansion plans to accommodate the region’s explosive growth, but it comes with a hefty price tag: around $3 to $4 billion over the next two decades.
RDU believes it can cover $2 billion in capital needs through 2029 via cash and maxing out bonds, but projects a funding gap of around $1 to $2 billion over the next 15 to 30 years.
That poses some “serious concerns” for the region, warned Michael Landguth, president and CEO of Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority at the Regional Transportation Alliance’s (RTA) State of Mobility 2020 event on Friday.
In 2019, RDU’s record-breaking traffic totaled 14.2 million passengers — a 50 percent increase in six years. That’s what was projected for 2031 — meaning traffic at the airport is already 12 years ahead of expectations levels.
However, some Triangle business leaders are already working on possible solutions.
Last year, RTA formed a group known as the RTA RDU Airport Infrastructure Development (AID) Task Force, made up of 12 business and community leaders. Since last September, they’ve been meeting monthly and presented their preliminary findings on stage at the event.
“[The report] represents the best thinking of our task force on the issue as of today,” Michael Schoenfeld, the task force’s chair and chief communications and government relations officer for Duke University, told the 400-strong crowd gathered at the Embassy Suites in Cary.
Among the recommendations: increasing air carrier landing fees, activating general aviation fees, imposing a $2 airport access fee, reallocating rental car taxes to RDU and increasing bond funding.
The report also calls for a possible new “terminal 3” — north of terminal 2 — with RDU offering airlines the opportunity to build, fund and operate it while sharing in the capacity risk.
“There is no single magic answer,” the report notes, ” and we have a shrinking period of time for all stakeholders.
“There is no current consensus with RDU’s airline partners on funding solutions or structures. While the airport may not be a natural partner with Umstead State Park, it needs to quickly become one, and vice versa.”
Schoenfeld said the group recognizes there is still a lot more work to be done.
“We don’t love some of these funding recommendations. In fact, we may not even like them. We thought it was important to elevate ideas like these rather than simply punting the issue and jeopardizing our airport future and our region’s prosperity. Our goal is to build awareness, understanding, urgency, consensus and ultimately solutions so that we can build the RDU that our region needs, wants and deserves.”