The current and future growth of the Triangle is top of mind for the Raleigh- Durham Airport Authority.
On Monday, the airport held a workshop to allow the public to weigh in on a project that would expand its Park Economy 3 lot.
The proposed project would triple the number of parking spaces in the Park Economy 3 lot, which is currently one of the cheapest parking options at RDU.
The project to expand the Park Economy 3 lot would include adding covered waiting areas with possible video displays and Wi-Fi access, along with a building that would include restrooms.
Officials said the project is needed to meet increasing demand and to accommodate for the future reduction of parking spots in other areas.
"Expanding Park Economy 3 is the lynchpin for construction at the airport. In order to expand Terminal Two we have to take parking spaces out of the deck and the surface lot. That'll be about 5,000 spaces that come offline. So this part of this Economy 3 expansion, we'll add those spaces back," explained Crystal Feldman, RDU Vice President of Communications.
Economy Parking 4 will also eventually be permanently closed as the airport expands its cargo operations.
The parking lot expansion is part of RDU's 25-year master plan approved in 2016. The biggest anticipated projects include rebuilding the main runway, adding additional gates to Terminal 2, and updating the road system.
These projects come as the population in the Triangle and surrounding areas continue to surge.
Around 11.7 million passengers were projected to be served by the airport last year, a 33% increase from 2021. The airport also added four new airlines and restarted numerous international routes.
The airport currently offers 43 nonstop destinations and hopes to add 18 by this spring.
Tonight's workshop is the first as part of the airport's new environmental review process. The process allows the public to weigh in on plans before they are finalized, something the Umstead Coalition has sought for years.
"We're very happy to have this opportunity. We hope that our concerns and our ideas will be incorporated," said Dr. Jean Spooner, a member of the Umstead Coalition.
Spooner said the coalition is concerned about the deforestation and impacts on stormwater runoff that the parking expansion could have. She said they proposed a different location for the expansion further away from the state park.
"Everything that happens on the airport affects us," she said.
Spooner said she understands the airport needs to expand but hopes they do so in a way with minimal impacts on the Umstead State Park.
She also suggested the airport look at alternate parking options beyond flat surface parking lots that might have fewer environmental impacts. Spooner suggested things like parking decks, increased public transit to the airport, and coordination with recreational lots.
"Anytime that you decrease the forest and increase your pavement impervious area, you have dramatic impacts on the downstream environments. In our case, everything on the airport drains directly or indirectly to the William B. Umstead State Park and our water resources and our land resources," Spooner said. "So I think it's it shows both the community and the airport and the park need to work together to try to minimize those environmental impacts," Spooner said.
Feldman said the airport is committed to continuing to have environmental impacts at the forefront of plans in the future.
"We're undergoing this additional environmental review because we want to make sure that we're good stewards of the environment. And then we're doing everything that we can to avoid environmentally sensitive areas," Feldman said. "So the Park Economy 3 expansion is the first project to undergo this process. But it won't be the only project to go through this additional environmental review."
Airport officials will consider the public's input and offer another workshop in six months. Officials hope to begin the first phase of construction in early fall and open the first phase in January 2025.