$2.2 million airport sign project approved by MAC

  • Article by: SUZANNE ZIEGLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2009 - 10:39 PM

The Metropolitan Airports Commission approved new highway signs aimed at cutting down on terminal confusion.

A plan to spend $2.2 million on new highway signs received final approval Monday from the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which debated concerns about its costs vs. benefits, the loss of the Humphrey and Lindbergh names and the difference between tax dollars and public dollars.

But one guest speaker pointed out that no matter what the airport does, there's no way to help everyone end up in the right spot.

The commission voted 10-3 for the project, which has drawn criticism because of its cost and the de-emphasizing of the historic Humphrey and Lindbergh names.

Commissioner Andy Westerberg was a "no" vote, saying a less expensive plan could have been found to help travelers find their way around the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"I think it's bad timing when people are tightening their belts," he said in an interview after the meeting. "It doesn't seem like an issue to warrant $2.2 million."

The plan includes 44 new highway signs on the roads leading to the airport -- Interstate 494 and Hwy. 5. Some signs will direct travelers to Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) or Terminal 2 (Humphrey), and some will list all the airlines that fly in and out of each terminal. The signs are expected to go in this year.

Airport officials have stressed that the cost of the project will be borne by airport revenue -- not tax dollars.

Commissioners Bert McKasy and Pat Harris also voted against it.

"It seems to me that continuing to recognize our heritage -- Humphrey and Lindbergh -- is an issue that we shouldn't give up on," said Harris, who preferred keeping the names of the famed aviator and former vice president on the signs leading to the airport.

The terminals will still be named after Charles Lindbergh and Hubert H. Humphrey, but their names won't be on the signs.

MAC Chairman Jack Lanners spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it will "address our No. 1 customer-service problem." MAC officials say that about 25,000 travelers each year are confused about which terminal to go to.

But one of two speakers before the commission, Frank Lorenz, said some people will get lost no matter what.

"You will never be able to get [the number of people who get lost] down to zero unless you take them by the lapel and guide them," he said.

Confusion arises because the terminals are 3 miles apart by car and accessed by different highway exits. Anyone who ends up at the wrong terminal has to get back on the highway and to the right one, sometimes causing a missed flight.

Lorenz, whose said he has an interest in the issue because his company, Hulke & Gheer, an engineer consulting firm, spends about $200,000 to fly in and out of MSP each year.

Lorenz and the only other guest speaker, Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, reminded the MAC that the money the MAC is spending may not be tax dollars, but it's still public dollars.

"It frosts me that these folks who don't stand for election are spending public dollars" without a strong effort to get public input, Krinkie said.

After the vote on the sign proposal, the commission rejected spending $98,000 on advertising to familiarize airport users with the new signs.

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707

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