CLEARWATER, Fla. (FOX 13) - A major construction project around St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport began Thursday and travelers are being urged to leave extra time to get to the airport.
Early Thursday morning, crews activated a new traffic light and shifted the access road to the airport, leading to a new main entrance, which is now located farther south on Roosevelt Boulevard near the air traffic control tower.
Direct access from 46 Street to Airport Parkway will no longer be available. Visitors will have to use the new main entrance.
"Construction is everywhere," said Tim Bowen of Bradenton. "Once you're in it, it's kind of easy to navigate, but trying to look for signs and navigate through all the twists and turns, it's kind of hectic."
The airport construction is connected to FDOT's $580 million Gateway Expressway Project. The project includes the creation of two new four-lane elevated tolled roadways, providing direct connections between U.S. 19 and I-275, as well as the Bayside Bridge and I-275. That project is expected to be done by summer 2022.
"[This project] will relieve congestion on Ulmterton and Roosevelt Road and 118th Avenue," said Michele Routh, an airport spokesperson. "Just allow yourself a little extra time."
Airport parking is affected as well. Right now, the ground transportation and short term lots are temporarily closed. Ground transportation and hotel shuttle providers will pick up passengers in front of the terminal. Drivers awaiting passenger pickup should use the cell phone or long term lots.
"That is a challenge for customers. It'll be closed for about six months," Routh said.
It was a challenge for Bill and Pat East, who were picking up someone who uses a wheelchair. The Easts also rely on handicapped or close parking, which they said was not available for them on Thursday.
"We had to walk quite a ways," Pat East said. "You're having to deal with the luggage to carry it back and forth and we're in our 70's. That's no picnic."
"I think it'll be great once they're finished, but now it's kind of a chaos," added Bill East. "The short-term parking like we would get is right across the street here. That would be great when it's finished. But that's just something you have to put up with until it is finished."
Short-term parking is expected to re-open in six months. Economy lots are still open. To access Key Lime PIE Economy Lot and Airport Employee Lots, drivers should turn onto 144th Avenue. The Strawberry PIE Economy Lot will only be accessible from internal roads, by taking Airport Parkway to Fairchild Drive.
Routh said crews will help direct traffic and direct people to the correct places.