PORTLAND — The $75 million expansion of the Portland International Jetport won’t be finished until 2012, but the project has already reached its first milestone — the completion of a new access road leading to the soon-to-be-expanded terminal.

The one-way, $3.6 million road runs below ground level so it will be at the same elevation as the new terminal entrance. Massive concrete retaining walls run along the roadsides.

A median strip divides the road into two sets of lanes. The two lanes on the right will take motorists to a planned new departure area where they can drop off passengers. The lanes on the left will allow motorists to bypass departure-area congestion and drive directly to the baggage claim area to pick up passengers, said Paul Bradbury, airport director.

“The critical functioning we have now is convenience,” Bradbury said.

For the time being, motorists heading to the short-term parking garage must first drive past the terminal to access the garage. Crews will eventually build a new garage entrance.

Some visitors say the new road surprised them. Michael Kahn, a Connecticut resident with a summer home in Mount Vernon, said he was “momentarily confused” when his car first entered the new road.

Robert Petty of Pittsburgh complained that he couldn’t find where to return his car because fabric-covered fences along the construction site were blocking views.

“Being at the airport is hard enough. I don’t need any additional stress,” he said.

But Lisa Ballou of Scarborough, who dropped off her brother at the airport, said she was excited to see the new road. When she was last here in June, nothing had been built, she said.

“All of a sudden — bam! It was a huge change,” she said. “It’s great. The airport needs a little updating, a little pizazz.”

The road is an extension of the International Parkway. It is part of the most ambitious expansion in the airport’s history and the largest construction project now taking place in Maine.

The project will nearly double the size of the terminal, adding 137,000 square feet of space. Airport officials say that will allow the terminal to handle an anticipated increase in passengers.

The project will add three gates, eight passenger screening lanes and a new baggage-handling system, capable of in-line explosives detection, to the terminal. Now, there aren’t enough gates to support another airline.

A new pedestrian bridge over the new access road will allow people to park in the adjacent garage and walk directly to baggage and security screening areas.

A federal grant and a $4.50 fee on every ticket will pay for the project. Passengers already are paying the fees, with the money paying down debts that will soon be retired.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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