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    New TIA lot meets match on holiday

    Officials say parking might be easier to accommodate for the more intermittent Christmas travel time.

    By JEAN HELLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 2000


    TAMPA -- Perhaps never in history has a local facility so quickly proved the axiom: If we build it, they will come.

    A scant two weeks after Tampa International Airport opened its new remote parking lot, it overflowed. The Thanksgiving holiday crowds it was designed to accommodate overwhelmed it.

    "We had people directing vehicles to spaces that aren't really spaces, and a few vehicles actually spilled over into employee parking, I think about 200," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "At one point, we had to close both the remote lot and the long-term lot."

    Several years of steady growth that have made TIA the third fastest-growing airport in the nation threaten to overwhelm some facilities and services, such as parking, and have forced the airport to step up capital improvement projects to meet the demand.

    Could the next one be to build remote parking decks? "Maybe," Miller said. "I don't know what we're going to do."

    For the immediate future, Miller said the fact the airport didn't totally run out of parking space during the busiest travel weekend of the year probably bodes well for the Christmas holiday.

    "Christmas is spread out more," Miller said. "It doesn't peak as badly. Nothing is as bad as Thanksgiving. The message I carried away from last week is that if we survived then, we can survive next month."

    It was close, though.

    Short-term, long-term, remote and valet parking have a combined 13,463 striped spaces. On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, counters found 12,823 vehicles in the four parking areas. But keep in mind the counts are taken at 3 a.m. when traffic is static.

    "We have a lot more cars in and out during the day," Miller said.

    As evidence of how big the crunch became, the short-term and long-term garages and valet parking, which is contained within the short-term garage, have a combined 11,299 spaces. On Sunday, 14,000 vehicles left those facilities through the ticket booths.

    The long-term lot, with a capacity of 7,687 vehicles, had to be closed Friday when the number of cars packed into it exceeded 7,900. Some drivers were allowed to park in the short-term garage, which never filled up, at long-term rates.

    The remote lot also was closed for a few hours the same day.

    Despite the crush, Miller said he hasn't heard any complaints.

    "I was down at the remote lot for a few hours Wednesday evening," he said. "I didn't talk to a lot of people, but those I did approach were very positive. We had people down there directing traffic to areas that aren't really meant for parking but can hold vehicles in a crunch, and everyone seemed to appreciate that."

    The key to avoiding the parking crunch during the holidays is to leave plenty of extra time or, better yet, have someone drive you to the airport, Miller said.

    The charge for parking in the new remote lot, which lies at the south end of the airport property near the post office, is $6 a day to a maximum of $30 a week. The remote lot is served by shuttle buses to the Landside terminal. Long-term parking costs $8 a day, short-term parking $12 a day and valet parking is $16 a day.

    Parking problems

    Thanksgiving holiday crowds overwhelmed Tampa International Airport's new remote parking lot just two weeks after it opened. TIA is the nation's third-fastest growing airport.

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