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$80 million airport face-lift begins, promising upgrades at end of the chaos

Construction vehicles and hard-hatted workers in yellow vests are beginning to swarm Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

And that’s the way it’s going to be until at least the end of 2020.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officially breaks ground May 9 for its $80 million face-lift of upstate New York’s busiest air facility. However, payloaders and jackhammers are already tearing up the former west end “limo lot.” By autumn, the 5 million passengers passing through Buffalo airport each year will encounter temporary walls inside the terminal and meet an army of craft workers led by general contractor Pike Company.

There’s a goal for the project at the end of construction chaos: new exit walkways on the terminal’s east and west ends, reduced congestion at security checkpoints, and enhanced baggage facilities.

In the meantime, officials aim for an airport that functions while immersed in construction.

“It’s going to work, absolutely,” said William R. Vanecek, the NFTA’s director of aviation. “It may [temporarily] take a little longer to get your bags, but when we get the new carousel machines, it will be a good catch-up.”

Vanecek and his team have devoted months of planning to ensure passengers reach flights on time and that life inside a buzzing air terminal continues as normally as possible. Construction will temporarily close one of the airport’s 25 boarding gates, and as many as 500 parking spaces may be sacrificed, too.

But he remains confident the airport, recently ranked tops in customer satisfaction among North America’s mid-size facilities, will present no major traveling problems (though he recommends arriving a bit early because of reduced parking in some lots). He thinks it will gain even stronger customer reviews when the project is completed.

Highlights of the completed airport include:

A monitor shows passengers what the new baggage claim area will look like once the Buffalo Niagara International Airport’s renovation is complete. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

• New walkways curving around the main terminal’s east and west ends that provide direct access to escalators and ground floor baggage claims. The goal is to eliminate congestion near the upper level elevators from the mix of arriving and departing passengers.

• Four baggage carousels to replace the three existing baggage belts, doubling capacity. Sloped plates on the carousels will take over for the current flat belt system.

• Expanded storage area for lost or delayed baggage awaiting claim by owners, eliminating the “sea of baggage” often clogging the lower level.

• New curb space at both ends of the terminal, currently considered a premium at the Buffalo airport.

• Relocating familiar concessions on the upper floor as well as the airport barbershop.

• A centralized play area for children, along with a tech center providing work space and cell phone recharging.

• A new and protected bus waiting area on the lower level.

• “Green” walls with plantings to filter the interior atmosphere.

Most of the project will be funded by passenger facility charges tacked onto each ticket bought at the airport along with NFTA borrowing and state funds.

[Gallery: Buffalo airport is now a construction zone]

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