The Lehigh Valley International Airport will begin a $22 million expansion project in January 2021, to improve passenger flow throughout its main terminal.
Thomas Stoudt, the executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, said this project consists of two major improvements. First is the construction of an elevated connector between the main terminal and the departure building, and second is the expansion and relocation of the TSA checkpoint.
Increasing passenger numbers and outdated facilities has prompted Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority to accelerate the implementation of this project, Stoudt said.
“We have seen about 25 months of consecutive passenger growth now,” Stoudt said. “As we are seeing that growth, we really knew that the checkpoint expansion project was important.”
The current layout of Lehigh Valley International Airport requires outbound passengers to travel through an underground tunnel to pass through the security checkpoint, then go up two escalators to arrive at the departure building. Arriving passengers travel the opposite direction through the same tunnel.
Construction of a bridge between the main terminal and departure building means departing passengers will go up one escalator and cross the bridge to get to the departure building, while arriving passengers will continue to exit through the underground tunnel.
“Today, (the inbound and outbound flow of passengers) are sort of intermingled, and it creates some bottlenecks at times with our traffic flow inside the terminal,” Stoudt said.
The flow of passengers going outbound will improve with the addition of the bridge, Stoudt said, and it will make it more convenient and straightforward.
Stoudt said he also hopes the bridge will add aesthetic value to the airport.
“We are going to incorporate a lot of glass and natural light,” he said. “We really want to capture this very bright open space that draws folks right into the gate area. I think it will be a really functional, but a very attractive improvement.”
The route for inbound passengers will be further improved by updates to the security checkpoint, which will expand from two screening lanes to four. It will also be moved from the underground tunnel to the second floor, right around the corner from where passengers present their tickets, Stoudt said.
Stoudt said the structure of the airport dates back to 1974, when most of the building was originally constructed.
“That underground connection where we have our security checkpoint (was built) before TSA really even existed, when the screening of passengers and bags was very different,” he said. “It really wasn’t a facility that lent itself well to the increased levels of security and flow of passengers.”
Zachary Cotter, ‘23, said his experience at Lehigh Valley International Airport was overall easy because the airport is relatively small.
“It was actually only about a 15-minute security wait,” Cotter said.
He said he hopes this expansion project will only make the travelling experience even more convenient.
Dianna Sabol, who lives about 10 miles from the airport in Emmaus, had a similarly positive review. She flies through Lehigh Valley International Airport about once a year.
Sabol said getting through the main terminal is generally a very smooth process, although she said some improvements could be made in regard to the security checkpoint.
“Due to my disability—decreased balance and gait—it is difficult to take off my footwear, so it would be helpful to have some seating where I can sit to safely remove my shoes at my own pace, without worrying about losing my balance,” Sabol said.
She also said it would be helpful to have a support bar in the scanner to help her hold up her arms.
Stoudt said the project is expected to take about 18 months. Because a brand new security checkpoint is being constructed between the terminals, he said a lot of the construction work will be able to occur without impacting the existing operation, which was another big selling feature of this particular design.