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Exterior Missoula airport passenger terminal

A conceptual rendering of what the exterior of the new Missoula International Airport would look like.

The Missoula International Airport has secured an $8.7 million federal grant to help fund a new terminal building, streamline passenger flow, add food retailers and double the number of gates.

The airport is just beginning a multi-year initiative to accommodate rapidly increasing passenger numbers, including starting construction on a new three-story, 175-000-square-foot terminal building that should be done by 2021. The entire project could cost as much as $110 million and will be paid by user fees, grants and other sources.

The $8.7 million Airport Improvement Program grant is much larger than what airport officials had expected. Last month, airport director Cris Jensen said he was expecting a $5 million grant.

“It was a nice surprise,” he said. “It was more than we anticipated. It was great news.”

Jensen credited U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., with helping to secure the funding.

“As our airport has continued to grow, it has become even more important to invest in and expand our facilities to meet the needs of the Missoula community,” he said. “We’re incredibly grateful to Senator Tester for helping us secure this funding and for his continual work on behalf of air travel in Montana.”

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the Fiscal Year 2018 government omnibus funding bill last March, which authorized the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program and included a $1 billion increase for the program.

“Investments in air travel in and out of Missoula are critically important to western Montana,” Tester said in an emailed release. “This grant will expand tourism, provide a big boost to the economy and make it easier for Montanans to stay connected with their friends and families.”

Jensen said work on relocating the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint in the airport is already underway, and it will move in December. Then, sometime after the first of the year, crews will begin demolishing part of the existing terminal and getting ready to build the new one. The larger grant will allow the airport to take on less debt at the beginning of the terminal project, he said.

“It was great news,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. This year, Daines helped secure more than $20 million for Montana airports, including $1,124,896 for Missoula International Airport.

Last March, Daines sent an email to the Billings Gazette giving his reasoning for not voting for the omnibus bill.

“The omnibus bill is a fiscal disaster that will take us deeper into debt and threaten our economy,” Daines wrote. “Washington must get over its spending addiction and pass a responsible, balanced budget.”

Jensen said the airport project will be an improvement for the entire community.

"We've really grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, so this new terminal building will double the capacity of our current facility, allowing us to accommodate more passengers, more flights and bigger aircraft," he said. "We're very thankful for the support of our congressional delegation, particularly Senator Tester who, in addition to helping us secure this most recent funding, has been integral in helping us secure other major upgrades, including our new air traffic control tower."

The City of Missoula is in the process of annexing about 3,200 acres  of airport land to make way for expected development in the future.

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