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story.lead_photo.caption File photo/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill.

HIGHFILL -- Parking is tight at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, and a parking garage to be built in the next few years might be the solution.

The Operations Committee of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority board looked at two locations and three plans for a parking structure on Wednesday.

Parking Growth at XNA

Construction at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport will add another 450 parking spaces in the lots across from the airport terminal. Construction should be complete by December. The new total parking spaces will be:

•Short term: 489

•Long term: 1,194

•Intermediate: 149

•Economy: 1,545

Source: Staff Report

A parking deck could be situated in the western end of what is now short-term parking or across the street next to the terminal where the rental car lot is now.

Consultants told the committee the structure could be split between public parking and rental returns with the bottom two floors planned as rental car spots and the upper deck or decks for commuters.

Option one, a four-story parking structure in the short-term lot, would cost about 400 parking spaces to put it on the ground, said Stephen Rebora, president of Desman Design Management told the committee. The structure would add 1,258 parking spaces: 560 for rentals and 698 for commuters.

"This would scratch both issues, rental and public," said Mike Johnson, Operations Committee chairman.

It's a realistic solution, said Rebora, who didn't endorse the site west of the terminal as a rental and commuter combination. A parking deck next to the terminal would have height limits. A geotechnical report indicated the water table is too high for an underground structure.

Scott VanLaningham, chief executive director for the airport, told committee members building on the rental parking lot would disrupt car rental services.

Rebora told the committee estimates predict a need for 500 to 1,200 new parking spaces at the airport in the next five to 10 years.

The airport probably will need a parking garage in the next five years, VanLaningham said after the meeting.

There are parking spaces under construction at the airport now. Parking lot expansion projects that are expected to finish by the end of the year will add 395 spaces to the economy lot and 58 spaces to the short-term lot, making a total of about 3,400 public parking spaces at the airport. Staff members said after the meeting that the lots are often full.

Ryk Dunkelberg, vice president for aviation planning at Mead & Hunt, presented several traffic flow models that would keep cars from clogging the front of the terminal, including a western access road that could bypass the terminal and give separate access to the rental lot or a future parking deck.

Commuters don't expect to walk past 1,000 feet to get to the terminal entrance, and some parking areas at the airport now exceed that limit, Dunkelberg said.

A parking deck positioned in front of the terminal could have a round entrance with a sky path crossing from its third level directly into the second level of the terminal. That addition would give potential space for offices or, if the escalators leading to security were repositioned, it would add room for a security queue instead of the current congestion.

"This is a very massive and important undertaking. It's as important as when we did the terminal building," Dunkelberg said.

A third option presented to the committee was for a rental-only parking deck beside the terminal. Because it would be for rental cars only a third level would not need a roof, and the concrete structure would cost less than other options.

Committee members asked about the possibility of building a three-story parking deck for commuters in the short-term lot and the rental-only garage next to the terminal.

Johnson said he liked that the first site would lend itself to rental and commuter parking initially and could be converted to commuter-only parking later.

"We're going to end up building a rental only across the street at some point," Johnson said.

Extra entrances and exits needed to house rentals and public parking could be built onto the building so they could be removed later, consultants told the committee

Costs would vary based on traffic flow to and from the buildings. Consultants discussed flyover crossings, pedestrian traffic flow and car traffic around the terminal and to the different parking structures. The first option had the most costly estimate at $31 million, but $2 million of that price hinged on a ramp to separate traffic below.

How much can the authority afford to do now, Stan Green, a member of the authority's board, asked the committee.

Green said he favored building two structures, one for commuters and one for rental cars, and planning now before construction costs go up again.

"I'm not saying we want gold-plated parking spaces," Green said. "We've gotta get the financial side of things worked out."

The numbers presented to the committee do not have the full picture, Johnson said.

"There's more costs floating around because this is design and construction," he said.

The committee will discuss the issue again during the Nov. 18 meeting.

NW News on 09/24/2015

Print Headline: Committee looks at parking garage for airport

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