COLONIE — Albany International Airport will get $92 million in improvements, including its first direct access to the Northway, additional parking and modernization of its main terminal, officials announced Tuesday.
The $50 million reconstruction of Northway Exit 4 will direct airport traffic to a new ramp that will enter Albany-Shaker Road just west of the Desmond Hotel, taking about 40,000 vehicles per day off the local road system.
“For decades, heavy traffic leading to the airport has compounded local congestion,” said Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, which is providing the state’s portion of the project funding. “This project has been talked about since the 1960s.”
The state, working with Albany County Airport Authority, will make $42 million in improvements at the airport, including construction of a new 1,000-space multi-story parking garage and an overall modernization of the 20-year-old main terminal.
Work will start late this fall and is expected to be concluded in 2020.
Zemsky said the state will put $72 million into the improvements, with the Airport Authority contributing $18.2 million and federal funds covering $1.8 million.
The announcement was made at the Million Air Terminal at the airport, with dozens of local officials present. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was expected to make the announcement but was instead leading an emergency response to flooding in the Southern Tier.
“Albany International Airport is a gateway to the Capital Region, and this modernization project will help maximize economic development and tourism opportunities for generations to come,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.
The Exit 4 project will create a new ramp for southbound traffic running behind the Desmond to Albany-Shaker Road near the airport, while northbound traffic will be routed onto a new “flyover” bridge to be built over the Northway. The current Exit 4 southbound ramp to Old Wolf Road will be eliminated, and the northbound ramp will be converted for traffic turning right-only onto Wolf Road. The new ramp will enter Albany-Shaker at a traffic light-controlled T-intersection. A new sidewalk on Albany-Shaker is also part of the plan.
The northbound entrance ramp next to the Times Union building will be extended to Exit 5, giving drivers entering there more time to merge into traffic. A noise wall is planned along that section, state officials said.
“These are improvements that will make an actual difference for travelers,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. “This is a project that will have an effect on the economy and jobs going forward.”
“When you think of congestion when you’re going up toward Lake George or going to Troy or Schenectady, it should free up a lot of that,” McCoy said.
Delays should drop by 54 percent for the evening rush hour and 29 percent in the mornings, according a study of the improvements cited by Zemsky.
Travelers, airlines and airport officials have long complained Albany International is the only major airport in upstate New York without direct access to an interstate highway. Cuomo’s office noted that the road reconfiguration will also open new lands for private development.
Sam Zhou, the state Department of Transportation’s regional director, said the new configuration should also allow easy access to Wolf Road from the southbound Northway lanes, since all the turns required will be right turns, and those drivers will encounter fewer traffic lights than they do now.
The construction bids will be opened in late September, and work could start as soon as early November, said Walid Albert, DOT’s deputy commissioner and chief engineer.
“It’s going to relieve a lot of pressure,” he said.
In 2015, a $22.3 million replacement of the Northway bridges over Albany-Shaker Road was completed in anticipation of the new exit reconfiguration.
While the access ramp project has been in serious planning for about five years, the plans for a terminal modernization and additional parking were unexpected.
The new pre-cast concrete garage will be built southwest of the existing parking garage, where surface parking and a storage building are now. The additional 1,000 parking spaces will increase the airport’s parking capacity by 20 percent.
The parking project will include a heated pedestrian walkway to the terminal. Improvements to current parking will include new LED lighting and signage and the addition of advanced GPS technology to help customers locate available spaces.
The terminal upgrades will include new food concessions in both passenger-boarding and public areas, new escalators, upgraded restrooms and improved internet connectivity.
“It’s a grant we applied for. We’re just excited to be receiving the grant,” said airport CEO John O’Donnell. “We see it as a transformational project. Parking has always been a challenge for us.”
The airport authority will borrow around $20 million within the next few months to cover its share of the projects and some other work, O’Donnell said. Because other debt is being paid off, the authority will be able to finance the improvements without raising fees, he added.
“We’re positioned financially to maintain the status quo with regard to fees to airlines and passengers,” he said.
The entrance to the Albany County Hockey Rink, located just west of the airport, will be relocated, but the rink will remain where it is. Separately, county executive McCoy said the airport authority and county for the past year have discussed the airport buying the rink and leasing it back to the county; those talks continue.
The Albany airport has about 1.4 million boardings per year and an equal number of arrivals. Passenger traffic has grown; Zemsky said it is the fastest-growing airport in upstate New York.
O’Donnell said he doesn’t expect the construction to inconvenience travelers.
“We have a lot of experience with construction,” he said. “We don’t think there will be any difference with travel.”
Zemsky said the state’s Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization Competition has also paid for major improvements at airports in Corning-Elmira, Rochester, Plattsburgh, Syracuse and Ithaca.
“When we talk to businesses, they all want to know: What are we doing about airports?” Zemsky said.