If there's one thing that keeps me up at night, it's parking.
Chattanooga Airport officials hoped to open on Friday a new 525-space lot that will help give Lovell Field nearly three times as much public parking as about a decade ago.
But, the airport has run out of room for more surface parking and the next big addition is slated to be a 1,300-space garage near the passenger terminal, said Chief Executive Terry Hart.
"The first piece was that we had to get that lot done so we can go forward with the deck," he said.
The newest parking is located next to the existing 275-space economy lot off Airport Road. Shuttles run every 7 to 10 minutes to transport users to the terminal, Hart said.
He said the fee is $9 per day. That's compared to $12 daily nearer the terminal and $20 a day for short-term parking, said the airport CEO.
Hart said the new lot, built by Thomas Brothers Construction Co., cost about $2.6 million and gives the airport about 2,900 spaces.
The need for more parking is driven by climbing passenger traffic at the airport.
Chattanooga Airport in 2018 set new records for passenger boardings and total traffic as it benefited from the city's growing economy and more flights, officials said.
Boardings hit 504,298 last year, the first time ever over a half million, up 4.08 percent from 2017, figures show. Last year was the fifth consecutive annual record for boardings at the airport.
Through February of this year, boardings are up 6.65% compared to 2018, according to the airport.
Airport Authority Vice Chairman Jim Hall said parking is one of the airport's key revenue streams and vital to users.
"All you have to do is come out once and not get a flight [due to a parking problem], they probably won't come back again," he said recently. "We need to fix the problem."
Hart said the airport's new master plan has identified the parking garage.
He said work could start on the four-level garage at the end of this year or early in 2020.
"It would provide covered parking," Hart said. "Our customers would like to have that."
The airport official said that when construction on the parking garage starts near the terminal, that will displace some existing spaces for a period of time. The new surface lot will help hold some of those vehicles, he said.
To help pay for the parking expansion and other improvements to meet demand from higher passenger traffic, the airport in 2018 agreed to raise parking fees for the first time in six years.
"If there's one thing that keeps me up at night, it's parking," said Hart. "We want to be able to serve everybody."
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.