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Vehicles fill the front of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport in this file photo.

Updated at 5:55 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, with more information,

AIRPORT PARKING FEES

New parking fees will go into effect on Jan. 1:

* Short-term lot - From $16 to $20 per day

* Long-term lots - From $9 to $12 per day

* Economy lot - Stays at $9 per day

Source: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport

Chattanooga Airport officials on Monday OK'd constructing a 520-space economy parking lot with shuttle service to the terminal as Lovell Field deals with record passenger boardings.

To help pay for the parking expansion and other improvements, the airport also is raising parking fees for the first time in six years as boardings are expected to surpass a half million for the first time ever this year.

"If there's one thing that keeps me up at night, it's parking," said Terry Hart, president and chief executive officer for the airport. "We want to be able to serve everybody."

The new lot will go up next to an existing 265-space economy lot off Airport Road that's already serviced by a shuttle, he told the Airport Authority in a meeting.

In addition, the airport is adding 250 more spaces by finding room in the existing long-term lots nearer the terminal, Hart said.

Additionally, he said the airport is expected to start work on a 1,300-space parking garage near the terminal next year, but it will take a year to construct.

"Creating an economy lot and adjusting parking rates helps ensure our long term financial stability, while still offering parking at a price well below other airports in our region," Hart said.

He said digital signs are expected to go up on Shepherd Road next year to direct people to lots with available spaces.

Hart said the airport is exceeding its expected growth due to expanded airline routes and the use of larger aircraft by carriers.

Concerning parking, the Authority agreed to the new rates, which will start Jan. 1.

The new short-term parking rate will be $20 per day, up from current daily rate of $16. The long-term daily rate will go from $9 to $12, and the economy daily rate will stay at $9. The new long-term rates are on par with neighboring cities, while the new short-term rate is still among the lowest in the region, according to the airport.

Construction of the new economy lot will begin in January, and it's expected to open by the end of April. Two free shuttles are to connect to the terminal daily with pickup every seven to 10 minutes, airport officials said.

The Authority agreed to a bid of $2.6 million from Thomas Brothers Construction Co. to build the 520-space economy lot. While it was above the $2.4 million low bid from Talley Construction, Hart said Thomas Brothers met all of the needed criteria, including having the soonest construction timeline.

Hart said the increase in parking fees, accounting for changes in parking by some users, is expected to add $1.6 million in revenue per year.

Authority Vice Chairman Jim Hall said parking is one of the airport's key revenue streams and vital to users.

"We need to fix the problem," he said. "All you have to do is come out once and not get a flight, they probably won't come back again."

Authority member Mike Mallen said the airport is "at the tipping point" when it comes to parking.

But the airport panel put off a vote on extending parking lot company Republic Parking's contract to service the economy lot with shuttles.

Board member Farzana Khaleel sought more analysis behind the extension and proposed rate increases.

Hart said he would send the requested information to board members.

While the new economy lot and parking garage plans are under development, the airport has been encouraging passengers to consider alternate transportation such as ridesharing, taxi, carpooling and bus or hotel shuttle service.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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