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RDU unveils Terminal 1 redesign: Terminal 2, meet your Mini-Me version

You know that TV commercial from a few years ago for Apple, where NBA star Yao Ming and diminutive little person actor Vern Troyer are yukking it up next to each other in airline seats?

Somehow, that was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the just-unveiled conceptuals for the reboot of Raleigh-Durham International Airport's Terminal 1.


The long-suffering powder-blue corrugated aluminum warehouse, er, airside is planned for a $60 million and change renovation starting in 2012, meant to finally exorcise the demons of the Eisenhower-era original brick bunker to the terminal's north and to give the Reagan-era southern portion of the facility a spiffed-up interior, not to mention improved baggage handling systems and the like.

A recent RDU Airport Authority public meeting saw the presentation of initial terminal concepts to the board. And -- there's that Vern Troyer reference again -- the best way to describe it is as a Mini-Me version of Terminal 2.

Not that you should expect swooping wood and steel ceilings and soaring panes of glass -- or moving sidewalks along an expansive corridor, for that matter.

There's roof-blowing budget to support a roof-blowing exercise; the structure itself looks to remain relatively static to keep costs minimized.

Indeed, looking at the floor plans released as part of the presentation -- and a big hat-tip to the Triangle Business Journal, by the way, for posting the full 5 MB file on their web site as part of a short post on the rehab -- the first thing you notice is that the rough functions of the airport, like ticketing, baggage claims, and security are in roughly the same locations.

Not that there aren't some nice tweaks. The first-to-second floor connection is streamlined, with stairs, elevators and escalator up to the security lobby and gates facing south, towards ticketing. And the stairs, escalator and elevators down to baggage claim will now be central in Terminal One, heading south-to-north down from mid-terminal.

The floor plans show only nine gates in the renovated T1, though the renovation stops at the point where the terminal's main hall doglegs towards the former US Airways gates and on to Southwest's digs, the ancient part of the terminal that dates to the early Cold War days.

That latter part is supposed to be abandoned, if not someday demolished, but the renovation wouldn't extend to the old US Airways section -- which leads one to wonder whether that would be home for future expansion should passenger growth continue.

The RDUAA document notes that there were 4.5 million passenger boardings at RDU in calendar year 2010. But with population growth and economic development, the RDUAA document suggests planning targets of 5 million annual boardings by 2020, with that number doubling to 12 million passengers by 2044.

(Note that those numbers reflect only passenger boardings; double them to calculate the total traffic coming in and out of RDU, including arriving passengers.)

By and large, the most noticeable aspect of the Terminal 1 renovation? Reskinning the facility to reflect the aesthetics of Terminal 2, with metal and glass, cable-suspended canopies, airy open elevators and the like.

Oh, and the funky fresh metal-and-leather chairs you find in Terminal 2 -- and just about every remodeled airport in America -- seem poised to make their way to T1, too.

(For goodness sake, RDUAA, can we make sure that crapola like Popeye's and Golden Corral don't make their way back to T1 after renovation? Yes, I know Golden Corral is a Raleigh-based company. No, that isn't a good excuse to have such nastiness in a terminal. We're supposed to look like a world leader in technology and medicine -- unless you're trying to build demand for all the heart centers at local universities that seem to advertise on every square inch of the airport.)

On to the photos:






Design work is scheduled to run through mid-summer, with construction document development occurring until November. 

The RDUAA expects to negotiate a CMAR (construction manager at risk) deal with a contractor starting in December; such a deal, used in the Durham Performing Arts Center construction and many other public and private sector efforts, essentially locks in a fixed price for a build effort.

Construction is set to start in March 2012, though the duration of the project isn't yet known.

The Authority is also continuing to do an early land-use look at sites for a future consolidated rental car facility; such a structure would allowed shared-use functions between car rental companies, similar in spirit to the shared spaces approach in place with the new Terminal 2's operation.

A parcel along the southwest corner of RDU's property near the I-40/I-540 interchange continues to rank as the most favorable site for the facility in a recent ranking by RDUAA consultants, largely it seems on the ground of its scalability to support future passenger growth and its proximity to future transit connections.

The site would be accessible from Pleasant Grove Church Road from the airport's Morrisville/I-40 entrance and possibly via a new interchange on Aviation Parkway.


Steve Graff

I've seen more changes at RDU in the almost six years that I've lived here that at SJC in the 30 years I lived in the SF Bay Area. And that's a good thing.

Sean Sondej

I agree with Steve wholeheartedly. The fact that we are continuously updating and expanding our airport is a good sign.


Thank God they are redoing the Trailer Park look. Nothing against anybody's place of residence but I don't prefer it for our public infrastructure.

I didn't realize until dropping a friend off at the airport one time and they brought it to my attention. Terminal 2 is great BTW!


if you don't like it, wait twenty years and it will change.

Erik Landfried

Apparently, T1 will only serve extremely white people.

Kevin Davis

@Erik: Similarly, I'm not a fan of the grayscale interior color scheme... :P


The architectural renderings give us several sneak previews:

Photo "11" suggests that the terminal floor will also be storage for oil shale.

Photo "3" confirms rumors that Dark Butterscotch AIRLINE may place its inaugural hub at RDU (take THAT, American!)

Photo "12", alas, shows what kind of lumbar-region tumors can develop on light-skinned white people after too many trips through the scanners. "safe levels of radiation", my ass. (Or should I say, "my lower back"?)



The colorless indoors and blue skies with green grass outdoors accurately evoke the airport experience: a cold warehouse for humans, with tons of windows to a beautiful outdoors we can look at but not touch. Unless we want another trip through TSA. Unless we're at a nice airport like Changi in Singapore with multiple koi ponds and a free movie theatre, and outdoor smoking lounges (last I was there).


...the hell?

I know high schoolers with better sketchup skills than that.

Not how you sell a project.

crowd SPRING

The fact that we are continuously updating and expanding our airport is a good sign.

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