For some travelers coming through the Idaho Falls Regional Airport, its expansion is welcomed with open arms.
“It is very small, compared to other airports,” Carlos Barron said.
But a 5,000-square-foot expansion unveiled Tuesday should help make a things a bit easier for Barron and others who use the airport.
The project, completed last month, added ticket counters, a stream-lined baggage conveyor system and new Transportation Security Administration screening area to the south end of the terminal. Work on the $2.9 million project started about three years ago.
Nearly 94 percent of the cost was paid by a Federal Aviation Administration grant, leaving the airport responsible for the remaining 6 percent or about $174,000.
Barron, 28, was traveling home to Mexico City on Tuesday after visiting his cousin in Rexburg. He said the expanded facility would benefit travelers.
INSIGHT architects, p.a., of Boise, designed the project. It was built by Blake Ford Construction LLC, and Barry Hayes Construction LLC, both Idaho Falls-based companies.
Airport Director Craig Davis said the project also increased space for airlines, as well as for a backup generator, which allows the airport to operate during power outages.
“We think this project improves the passenger experience. The check-in process is more streamlined, there is a brighter lobby area and a more aesthetically pleasing environment,” Davis said.
In addition, the security screening process will be quicker, he said.
For Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, there is a direct connection between the airport and local economy.
“The service (the airport) provides is one of those invisible forces that helps the economy to grow,” Casper said. “That’s why we call it an economic driver; it helps create the growth. If it’s easy to get in and out of our community, that makes a big difference. Businesses sometimes make their location decisions based on the air travel that’s available.
“Because tourism does play a big role in this area, it’s wonderful to have people get a good impression when they land here and not feel like they are in some backwoods sort of place. Instead they feel like they are in a modern facility and it sets a very good tone for their visit.”
Michelle Holt, CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, said it’s difficult to put a dollar amount on the economic effects of a larger and more user-friendly airport.
“It’s that one-two punch for accessibility,” Holt said. “Our location between the national parks for visitors, the corridor to Salt Lake City and the events that happen there, Idaho Falls just becomes this prime location. The fact that we have the airport here makes all the difference.”
Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony fell between the debut of two new flights offered at the airport. Delta Airlines began direct flights to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Saturday. Frontier Airlines begins direct flights to Denver on Thursday.
Jason Smith, 42, frequents the Idaho Falls airport while traveling between his residence in Florida and summer home in Island Park. Generally, he doesn’t have issues finding flights through Delta, but said the city could benefit from further expansion.
“From a tourist’s prospective, the more airlines you have coming in here, the greater the ability to cater to people coming from different directions,” Smith said. “I think it would be a boon to the economy, absolutely.”