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A SPACE RACE
NO MORE METERS, NO MORE TICKETS - PARKING AT THE NEW TERMINAL WILL BE A LITTLE PRICIER, BUT A LOT MORE CONVENIENT.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport promises to be a much easier place to reach than its predecessor, but it will end what appears to be a favorite pastime for transit police -- issuing parking tickets.

Meters will be a thing of the past when the airport opens. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials say the two-tier ramp serving the departure and arrival levels at the terminal isn't wide enough to allow parking.

It also fits in with the authority's plan to bring in an additional $350,000 each year in parking revenue.

If you can't remain in your car while picking up or dropping off passengers, you'll have to use the new three-level parking garage that sets aside 886 spaces for short-term parking.

Half of those spaces are sheltered, but you'll be spending more for that quick trip inside.

The minimum half-hour charge will be $1.50, vs. the previous 50 cents for a 15-minute meter. Some increases also are in store for long-term parking, but NFTA officials promise that convenient and frequent shuttle van service will make it worth the price.

"Shuttles will be waiting at the lot and will follow you to your parking spot," said Walter Zmuda, NFTA general manager for engineering. "There also will be mall-type islands with shelters and sidewalks leading to the garage. It will have skylights and be well-lit at night."

The daily fee at the new 1,100-space long-term lot will remain at $11, but fees under five hours will be increased to varying degrees. For example, the charge for two hours will rise from $4.25 to $4.50, and three hours from $6.25 to $6.75.

The NFTA projects that its share of the long-term parking market will grow from 39 percent to 50 percent in four years, but its chief competitor, Airpark, also has some improvements planned for opening day at the new airport.

General Manager John Stewart said his company is purchasing seven 15-passenger buses to replace its current fleet. The new vehicles will be more comfortable and feature an audiovisual center, he said. Daily parking rates at the 1,350-space lot will be $7.99.

"We see more opportunities than challenges," he said. "The NFTA will be more aggressive in marketing, but they have only one floor of covered parking. We feel we'll remain competitive. Having one terminal vs. two is a huge benefit to serving customers quickly."

For high rollers, the NFTA is setting aside 69 spaces on the lower level of the garage for premium parking at a cost of $2,500 each year. The rest of the 1,300-space garage is being used for car rentals.

Zmuda said having parking for rental cars to the offices will make the new airport more convenient. A person will be able to pick up his luggage, cross the arrival lanes to the rental agencies and then walk to his car.

"You're right there," he said. "There's no shuttle to a rental lot."

Though it will cost a bit more to park, the road to the new airport promises to be a much smoother and easier ride than the previous drive down Genesee Street and its two left turns for the West and East terminals.

The bulk (85 percent) of the airport visitors who arrive from the Kensington Expressway will cross Genesee through a surface intersection with traffic signals into a new circulatory road system.

Trouble is, the new roadway won't be finished until November 1998 because the West Terminal and its parking lot have to be demolished and removed first. Until then, people going to the new airport will have one turn to make at the current access to the West Terminal.

Another temporary feature of the airport necessitated by the terminal demolitions will be a 200-foot extension to the east end of the new concourse. Planes will ultimately park on both sides of the concourse, but the old East Terminal will block access until it's torn down and removed.

Zmuda said passengers will wait for their planes in the permanent concourse holding rooms. The five-gate temporary extension will offer enclosed and climate-controlled access to planes.