More international flights prompts Lauderdale airport to speed up renovations
By Scott Wyman
Posted October 13 2004
Renovations to the international terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will be sped up to accommodate plans by two airlines to add service this winter to the Caribbean and Latin America.
Airport officials wanted to hire a construction company for the $10 million project without seeking competitive bids in order to ensure the terminal is ready on time, but were rebuffed by county commissioners Tuesday. Commissioners agreed to expedite the project but ordered the airport to find a way to do it without skirting bidding procedures.
Instead of a no-bid deal, the county will likely ask contractors to submit offers to do the work before detailed engineering plans are complete.
The decision comes even though one of the airlines, US Airways, has filed for bankruptcy for the second time in two years. Commissioners said rushing the work is not a bailout, but a reprioritization of something they planned to undertake over the next couple of years anyway.
"This was something that is needed and that we were going to do, so it's nothing more than a timing issue," County Mayor Ilene Lieberman said. "All we are doing is reordering what is to be done."
Officials expect the fast-tracked project will not cost any more than if they had stuck to the original schedule. The Terminal 4 renovations were the next phase of construction that so far has included overhauls of other terminals, a new entranceway road system and a new parking garage and rental car center.
US Airways announced in August plans to expand its Fort Lauderdale services from 19 flights a day to 56, including eight additional international flights. Days later, Spirit Airlines announced it would add two international flights.
The airport now has only 10 international flights a day and lacks room to handle the additional passengers during peak times as they clear customs and immigration and pick up their luggage. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security told the airport that the large number of travelers in such a small space poses security and fire risks.
The federal inspection area of Terminal 4 handles an average of 350 passengers an hour but will have 800 passengers an hour in late afternoon. Passengers would back up in the long, narrow corridors leading to the inspection area.
Chuck Allen, US Airways' director of corporate affairs, said he hoped Terminal 4 would be ready on time regardless of how contractors are hired. He said the expansion was a key component of the airline's effort to come out of bankruptcy because it will be a base of operations to offer low-cost service to a growing Latin America-Caribbean market.
"It's an extension of what we do well already," Allen said. "This is an overall transformation to be a low-cost, low-fare airline."
US Airways plans to add service to such destinations as Cancun, Mexico, and Kingston, Jamaica. Spirit is adding service to the Dominican Republic.
The growth in international flights at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has become an issue in the fight over the airport's expansion and whether a second runway should be built. Some critics have suggested that the airport should focus on low-cost domestic flights and leave international service to Miami International Airport.
County commissioners have wanted the airport's role in international service reviewed as part of a major update of long-range plans now under way. But they rejected that Tuesday's decision to fast-track renovations to the international terminal sidesteps that study.
Commissioners said they had only questioned adding so many flights that they would be forced to build more gates, something that is not needed to accommodate Spirit and US Airways' plans.
Construction plans at the airport have included a $55 million redesign of the international terminal. In addition to the expansion of the inspections area, more ticket counters are to be built, and screening machines are to be relocated.
The county hired an architectural team led by the firm Pierce Goodwin Alexander and Linville Inc. last year to design the updated international terminal.
As part of Tuesday's decision, procurement rules will be waived so the team can speed up work on the customs-immigration area. Such contract changes normally have to go back to a negotiating committee before being approved.
The airport also wanted to hire Cummings-Centex Rooney, the consortium building the rental car center and parking garage. They argued a no-bid deal was the only way to guarantee everything would be ready by February.
Commissioners said the construction contract is too large to dole out without bids. They questioned why the airport waited until October to change plans when the airlines made the announcements two months ago.
"I have grave concerns about who is driving the bus here," Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said. "It clearly is not the county. It's business."
But commissioners pushed for a compromise that would speed up the work while still ensuring any company could bid. "To not do this now is just putting an imposition on the traveling public that will be severe," Commissioner John Rodstrom said.
County Administrator Roger Desjarlais said the county likely can keep to the February deadline if it does not wait until design plans are complete to hire a contractor. He expects to have an answer in two weeks when the commission must make a final decision.
Work would not be completed until July if the county followed traditional bidding practices, officials said.
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