Fort Lauderdale Speeds up Redesign of International Terminal

A fast-track design process will make it easier to move through the international terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when US Airways begins expanded Caribbean and Latin American service in February.

Broward County commissioners voted Tuesday to waive their purchasing guidelines and speed the redesign of Terminal 4, where international visitors get their first look at Florida.

But commissioners struggled over how to handle the construction phase. Several said they're uncomfortable with awarding one company a $9 million no-bid construction contract -- especially in light of two recent critical audits of airport construction.

But other commissioners argued that the terminal was already slated for a $55 million renovation; they're just speeding up the process and making the US Airways portion a priority, said Mayor Ilene Lieberman.

Plus, the wait to clear U.S. Customs is already interminable, said Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion.

"Sometimes it's unbearable," he said. "You're waiting there forever and ever and ever." The commission will decide Oct. 26 whether to waive its purchasing rules and award the construction contract to a specific company.

The project aims to improve the areas used by U.S. Customs and other federal inspection agencies for international passengers. It's a priority for US Airways, which plans to expand its flight schedule from 19 to 56 daily flights out of the Fort Lauderdale airport by Feb. 13 -- even as the company struggles with bankruptcy.

Eight of those additional 37 flights are international arrivals, which will bring an estimated 800 passengers an hour through a terminal that now can handle only 350.

US Airways officials made a pitch for the expanded international arrivals area. The county will be helping a business that has been in Broward County for 20 years, said Chuck Allen, the company's director of corporate affairs.

And it's not much of a welcome to Broward County if passengers have long waits to get through U.S. Customs, Allen said.

"If customers and visitors are inconvenienced on their arrival, we will lose our opportunity to make a good impression," he said.

Also Tuesday, commissioners removed Randy Dunlap from the county's airport task force, headed by Commissioner John Rodstrom. Dunlap, one of the most vocal supporters of a south runway expansion, ran unsuccessfully against Rodstrom in the primary election.

Dunlap was removed after the commission decided to require that the representative to the task force from a city of Fort Lauderdale neighborhood association must live in the Edgewood neighborhood.