Several days a week, the only parking deck at Charleston International Airport is full, and the surface lots often are near or at capacity as well, according to the head of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
“We are essentially out of parking capacity,” authority CEO Paul Campbell said. “We’re not completely out yet. Sometimes we can handle the capacity, but it is getting really tight. We’re really excited because the growth is exciting. The challenge of growth is you then have to deal with it.”
When the ongoing $200 million terminal expansion plans were drawn up in 2009, they were based on passenger projections expected in 2025. The airport is already hitting those anticipated rates — last year, 3.4 million passengers traveled in and out of the Charleston airport.
The terminal overhaul and expansion of Concourse B should be completed this fall. Campbell said a new Concourse C is already being considered.
As the airport makes more space for additional airlines and travelers, the aviation authority also plans to expand its parking facilities.
“We are likely to get 3.8 million inbound and outbound passengers for the 2016 year,” said Campbell, also a Republican state senator representing parts of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. “We need to be prepared for the onslaught of what’s coming. Folks want to come here for their careers and jobs and for tourism activities.”
Preliminary engineering of a new parking deck is underway. The plan is to break ground on July 1 next year. Costs are estimated to be about $80 million.
The new deck would sit directly behind the existing parking deck, which has three stories and around 1,200 spaces. That deck is 11 years old.
The new parking garage would have capacity in the range of 2,000 to 2,400 cars. It would be built on part of the existing surface lot. Surface lot spaces would remain, although the exact number is unknown in the early stage of design, Campbell said. The surface lot has around 2,300 spaces currently.
Airport parking rates are increasing slightly on Nov. 1 for valet parking and surface lot spaces. Campbell said he expects increased rates for the parking garage as well.
Handicap spaces will likely no longer be completely free in the coming months, although a price has not been approved by the board yet. This price change is the result of people parking in those spaces for up to two months in some cases, Campbell said.
“We don’t want to gouge our passengers because we value their time and want them to be able to park and get them where they want to go, but we also need to run this like a business to pay for the new deck,” Campbell said.
Employees also will have to pay $1 a day to park at the airport, although their respective employers — food company Delaware North, retailer Hudson News, airlines, car rental companies and the aviation authority — could pay the costs as an employee perk. Campbell said aviation authority members will not have to pay for parking.
More parking for employees is being added. As the airport opens more restaurants, stores, airlines and a larger security checkpoint, the employee count has grown to around 1,000 people.
Currently, workers can park in two lots adjacent to the terminal. One of two remote lots located on airport property will now be used for employee parking as well. Shuttles will run every five minutes between the airport and the parking lots.
Campbell said the authority has considered a remote, off-site parking lot with a shuttle service for travelers, but he said that project is likely a decade away from being pursued.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” Campbell said. “We don’t want to get too far out in front of it and waste money, but we don’t want to get behind and play catch-up. We want to be ahead of the growth.”