Missoula airport terminal project advances with funding boost from FAA

Construction crews brave a frigid October wind Tuesday while work continues on the first phase of a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Despite the early onset of winter, construction is advancing on the new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport, the first phase of which remains on pace to open by January 2022.

Airport officials may also receive welcome news in the coming days as the Federal Aviation Administration releases an additional round of discretionary funding.

The airport had initially budgeted just $5 million in discretionary funds for the terminal, though airport director Cris Jensen said the FAA could award the project its full $20 million limit.

“In the beginning, we actually budgeted just $5 million, but the FAA then came back and said $11.2 million, so that was the number we’ve had in our financial model,” Jensen said Tuesday. “We’ve received about $15 million to date, which is certainly better than we’d ever hoped for, and it looks like – based on emails from the FAA – that we’ll end up at the $20 million cap.”

The first phase of the terminal includes a new south concourse with room for five aircraft. Each gate will be capable of seating 150 passengers, leaving the crowded confines of today’s terminal behind.

The new terminal also includes security screening, the lobby, ticketing and passenger amenities. A bar and restaurant is planned, along with sweeping views of the airfield.

The estimated cost sits at roughly $70 million, though that number will firm up next month when the airport opens the next round of bids associated with Phase 1.

“Bids will get opened next month and get awarded by the beginning of the year,” said Tim Damrow, the airport’s project director. “Once we start seeing these numbers come back, we’re hoping to get good bids and stay below budget, and increase that comfortably going into the next phase of the project.”

The second phase of the project would include demolition of the existing terminal and replacing it with an extended concourse with room for three more aircraft. If next month’s bids are on budget, the additional funding from the FAA would give that future phase a boost.

“It’s a big deal because we’re trying to be as conservative as possible with this,” Damrow said. “More federal funding allows us to move a little quicker with the project. Next month will be the big month for us.”

The structural steel also is expected to arrive next month, followed by vertical construction. As that kicks off, the airport will prepare to select a concessionaire to occupy the new terminal.

Lynn Fagan, the airport’s chief legal counsel, said six restaurants have applied, including four national companies and two from Montana. The bids will be opened and scored in December. The airport authority is scheduled to name the winning applicant in February.

“We had one local Missoula company and another out of Bozeman that applied,” said Fagan. “We also had four national companies show up. We had a good turnout from that, and hopefully we can get some good proposals from that.”

The terminal project is being funded by airport revenues and federal funding.