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RDU has plans to eliminate rental car shuttles, create space for taxis, Uber and Lyft

It will be several years before you’ll be able to get to and from your rental car at Raleigh-Durham International Airport without taking a shuttle bus, but airport officials now know how it will work.

Initial designs of the consolidated rental car complex or CONRAC show a six-story garage north of RDU’s main parking deck, where all 11 rental car companies will have their counters and cars ready for travelers. New walkways will allow people to get to and from both terminals on foot, eliminating the need for the shuttle buses that now circle the airport campus.

Another new multistory building, north of the rental car garage, will be used to clean and refuel returned cars to get them ready for the next customers. The rental car turnaround building will require the airport’s loop road, John Brantley Boulevard, to be shifted north.

The plan also calls for eliminating the crosswalk where people now traverse the drop-off lane in front of Terminal 2, the main terminal. A new tunnel under the roadways will lead from the baggage claim area to the parking deck and the rental car complex, while a new elevated walkway will connect the main ticketing hall.

The tunnel and elevated walkway will take people through a new five-story parking deck, which will replace the section of parking garage closest to Terminal 2. Altogether, there will be about 11,850 parking spaces within walking distance of the terminals.

There will be escalators and moving walkways along the way, but getting to the rental car counter will require more walking than it does now. Daniel Barton, director of InterVISTAS Consulting Group, the California company that developed the designs and presented them to the airport’s governing board Thursday, said the ticket counters in the CONRAC will be about 800 feet from the door of Terminal 2 and about 1,000 feet from Terminal 1.

New ground transportation center

Meanwhile, at the southern end of the existing parking deck, the first level will be converted into a “ground transportation center,” where taxis, hotel shuttles, limos and rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft will pick up and drop off passengers. The center will include a heated and cooled waiting area that seats 50.

It’s not clear yet whether people picking up friends and relatives would continue to use the curbs in front of the terminals, said Bill Sandifer, the airport’s chief operating officer.

“We’ll have to decide that at some point,” Sandifer said. “But what the GTC does is it gives us the flexibility to continue to grow and do some things we couldn’t do today because we don’t have enough real estate.”

RDU needs another two years for environmental studies and detailed planning and design work before construction of the CONRAC can begin, Sandifer said. He estimates it will take another four years of construction to complete the project.

The cost to build the CONRAC, the tunnel and elevated walkway, the new parking deck and the ground transportation center will likely exceed $500 million, Sandifer said. Most of that money will come from a fee already being collected from people who rent cars at RDU, he said.

The CONRAC is one of several projects spelled out in RDU’s 25-year master plan, called Vision 2040, which was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in late 2017. It also calls for replacing the main runway with a new, longer one capable of handling flights to Asia and for developing a quarry on 105 acres of airport land next to Umstead State Park, a move that opponents are contesting in court.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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