A steep decline in air travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak presented the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with an unusual opportunity.

Glumack Drive, the inbound, quarter-mile roadway guiding motorists to the airport's arrival and departure entrances at Terminal 1, as well as parking and the InterContinental Hotel, is getting a badly needed overhaul.

Last year, some 120 million motorists traveled along the thoroughfare to the airport.

With fewer travelers flying these days, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which owns and operates MSP, decided to repave the thoroughfare. And the $3.5 million project was made possible due to the availability of federal funds related to the reduction in passenger traffic caused by the pandemic.

So that means substantially less impact to airport travelers.

"The road was asphalt and, frankly, has been patched and patched and patched over years and years," said MAC Executive Director and CEO Brian Ryks. "Springtime frost equals potholes. It always bothered me — you don't want people coming to the airport on a road with a lot of potholes. The road is part of the airport experience."

The new four-lane road will be concrete with a life span of up to 40 years, compared with 20 years for an asphalt surface. Construction began in August and is expected to finish in October.

As crews remove remaining areas of asphalt, the roadway has been reduced to one to two lanes.

The project dovetails with the $26 million resurfacing of Hwy. 5 between the Mississippi River and 34th Avenue in Bloomington on the edge of the airport's property.

That Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project began last spring and is expected to wrap up in October, to coincide with the airport road resurfacing, said spokesman Dave Aeikens.

MnDOT planned ahead to make sure travelers were aware of various detours throughout the project. But with the pandemic dampening airport travel, the inconvenience from road construction wasn't as bad as expected, Aeikens said.

Even before the pandemic hit and the federal money surfaced, MAC officials wondered whether they should overhaul the incoming thoroughfare. "We asked our engineers, with MnDOT's nice new roadway to the property line, it looks bad after that. Can we do something?" Ryks said.

The $3.2 million in federal funds paved the way for Glumack Drive, named after Raymond Glumack, a former MAC director and chairman who is a member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

"Most Minnesotans and probably many folks from the five-state region have been on that roadway," Ryks said. "It's a pretty important piece of pavement."