Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) plans $3B worth of construction projects over the coming decade

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Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) plans $3B worth of construction projects over the coming decade to keep pace with the area’s explosive growth.

Goal: Establishing a travel center capable of efficiently accommodating the growing number of travelers and meeting the needs of the expanding population. RDU acknowledges the region’s growth and strives to guarantee a pleasant airport experience for the millions of travelers passing through each year. This renovation project transcends mere capacity expansion—it aims to enhance visitor services and position RDU as a destination in its own right.

From terminals and parking areas to runways and state of the art facilities, RDU is leaving no stone unturned, in its efforts to become a top tier travel hub.

Here is what’s coming

Outlined in the 25-year master plan, Vision 2040, which RDU adopted in 2016 but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planned construction projects include:

A new main runway: RDU officially broke ground on a replacement for its main runway on the west side of the airfield last fall, though so far most of the work has entailed moving utility lines and preparing to move dirt. When RDU opens the new runway later this decade, it will convert the existing one into a taxiway.

The new runway is the most critical of the RDU’s upcoming construction projects; the existing runway was completed in 1986 and requires costly repairs to keep it viable. The new runway will stretch 10,639 feet, or 639 feet longer than the existing one to allow all cargo and passenger carriers now doing business at the airport to operate their planes fully loaded.

More parking: RDU is nearly tripling the size of Park Economy 3, its largest remote parking lot near Aviation Drive and Interstate 40. RDU will make the first of the 7,000 new spaces ready next year, with some coming online in 2026. RDU will power the lights, message boards, ticket machines, and bathrooms at the lot in part by the sun, after it installs solar panels on the roofs of some of the covered walkways.

A new ground transportation center: Along with the CONRAC, RDU plans a new “ground transportation center” on the first floor of the parking decks, where taxis, hotel shuttles, limos, and rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft will pick up and drop off passengers.

A bigger Terminal 2: The main passenger terminal at RDU is at capacity, with expansion along the road to add more ticket counters, baggage carousels, security checkpoints, and more space for the Customs and Border Protection facility for incoming international passengers. Contractors are working on final designs, and construction is expected to begin next year.

More gates at Terminal 2: Eventually, RDU wants to enlarge the airfield side of the terminal, increasing the number of gates from 33 to 53 by 2050, by adding wings to the existing concourses. RDU can’t begin that work until it completes the new runway.

Realign John Brantley Boulevard: In conjunction with the landside expansion of Terminal 2, they will demolish and replace two parking decks closest to the building and realign John Brantley Boulevard, the airport’s main street. RDU will also shift the boulevard north to make room for the CONRAC.

More space for air cargo: RDU plans to eventually close its smaller remote lot, Park Economy 4, off International Drive, making the space available to expand the air cargo operations at the north end of the airfield.

A new center for rental cars: RDU has preliminary designs for a consolidated rental car complex or CONRAC that will move all the rental car companies into a new multi-story garage north of the main parking decks. Travelers will be able to reach the counters and cars on foot from the terminals, eliminating the need for the shuttle buses that now circle the airport campus.

RDU’s panned construction projects are set to revolutionize the airport turning it into a hub that can welcome a number of travelers and offer an enhanced travel experience. The goal is to draw in tourists boost the economy in the area and solidify its position as a point of entry, for both local and international passengers.

Read also: Raleigh-Durham International (RDU) Airport expansion project approved

Impact on travelers

“If we had a greenfield site, we could do it quickly,” Sandifer told RDU’s governing board earlier this year. “We don’t. Imagine redoing your kitchen while you’re living in your house. It’s more complicated.”

RDU’s Vision 2040 master plan outlines massive renovation and expansion plans that will bring both benefits and challenges for travelers over the next 25 years. In the short-term, passengers should brace themselves for navigating extensive construction zones and temporary inconveniences as RDU phases in projects like the new runway, parking expansions, and terminal upgrades. However, once complete, the improvements aim to create a significantly better travel experience. Travelers will enjoy less congestion with more parking, check-in counters, security lanes, and gates to accommodate increased passenger volumes. The new consolidated rental car facility will streamline the car rental process. RDU will upgrade overall airport efficiency and amenities. But perhaps the biggest enhancement will be increased capacity that allows RDU to continue operating smoothly as the region’s population and travel demands rapidly expand in the coming decades.

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