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Editorial, 4/2: Airport upgrade will ensure bright future

Editorial, 4/2: Airport upgrade will ensure bright future

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The Lincoln Airport had more than 5,900 passengers in October, its best month since March.

In 1983, Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine walked along the street in front of the Lincoln Municipal Airport, their characters saying farewell in a scene from the Oscar-winning “Terms of Endearment.”

Twenty-five years later, the airport had another cameo in the Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man.”

A drive past the terminal finds that, even after the alterations at airports following 9/11, it looks almost exactly the same as it did four decades ago. That appearance, however will dramatically change over the next year.

The Lincoln Airport Authority last week approved a massive expansion and renovation project that will modernize and upgrade the 49-year-old terminal, part of an effort to change the perception of flying out of Lincoln and increase passenger numbers.

The project will expand the north side of the terminal, where all of its airline gates will be consolidated, adding 35,000 square feet to the existing 58,000 square foot building. That will allow the airport to consolidate its two security checkpoints into one.

Another post-9/11 change will move food and beverage services to the secure side of the passenger area, as is the case at most airports.

The total cost of the project is estimated at about $54.8 million. That includes design and engineering costs, equipment the airport has to buy, such as new seating and new jet bridges, plus a contingency cushion to account for unforeseen costs.

To pay for the expansion, the Airport Authority plans to use its property tax authority for the first time since 1986, issuing $56 million in bonds and paying them off with the property tax receipts.

The board plans to use half its available levy, or 1.75 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. At that rate, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $35 a year for about 15 years.

While no one likes property taxes, $35 a year is about half the cost of driving to and from Omaha and parking for a few days to fly out of Eppley Airfield.

And it is, in large part, competition with Omaha -- and to a lesser extent Grand Island -- for leisure travelers that is pushing the much-needed modernization of the airport, a first step toward getting people, in the Foo Fighters’ words, to “Learn to Fly” out of Lincoln, which, we hope will offer more flights at costs comparable with those from Omaha.

The expansion alone may not be a "Field of Dreams" situation: If you build it, they will come. But it is nearly certain that if you don’t build it, they -- new airlines and passengers -- won’t come.

That makes the project necessary and important for the future of Lincoln and well worth the investment of the tax dollars.

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