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Buttigieg, Shapiro unveil $35 million expansion at Lehigh Valley International Airport

HANOVER TWP., LEHIGH COUNTY, Pa. — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and other political VIPs descended on Lehigh Valley International Airport Friday to celebrate a new $35 million connector bridge that will streamline how passengers board and depart flights from the region's largest airport.

Airport staff presented Buttigieg, Gov. Josh Shapiro and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, with ceremonial boarding passes as they passed through the new TSA security checkpoint before a crowd of about 200 people. The trio hailed the expansion not only as a boon to the local economy but as the realization of the promises of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The connector bridge, which received $5 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law, is among the first projects to receive funding to be completed.

  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Josh Shapiro and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild unveiled a $35 million expansion at LVIA Friday
  • The project will allow travelers to move more quickly through the TSA security checkpoint
  • Airport officials said the improvements could make the airport a more attractive partner for airlines, potentially attracting more flights

Buttigieg said regional airports such as LVIA are essential to the lifeblood of not just local economies but to the nation's transportation network. Having modern facilities like this allows more Americans to comfortably and conveniently travel for business and pleasure, he said.

"President Biden has been clear that success means communities of every size benefit," said Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential candidate. "We need to make sure that from the smallest rural town or counties all the way to the biggest metro centers in the U.S. that we're serving them well."
The state chipped in another $13 million for the project, but Shapiro credited Wild and other local advocates who lobbied for the expansion. Echoing remarks he made during a March visit, he praised the Lehigh Valley's ability to band together to get stuff done. Working together to make critical infrastructure improvements like this will only strengthen the economic reach of the region and Pennsylvania, he said.

"The Lehigh Valley has long been an economic leader in Pennsylvania. But, let's be frank, it's too often had to take a back seat to some other regions in Pennsylvania. Today, we say no longer."
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro

"The Lehigh Valley has long been an economic leader in Pennsylvania. But, let's be frank, it's too often had to take a back seat to some other regions in Pennsylvania. Today, we say no longer," Shapiro said.

Under the new layout, departing travelers will move through one of three TSA checkpoints before traveling up an escalator and through an airy hallway to Wiley Post Terminal, where they'll board their flights. Arriving passengers will go through an underground tunnel to claim their baggage. Tom Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, said the new layout will open to the public in the next 30 days. TSA equipment needs to be moved, and the authority needs to complete minor renovations to the tunnel, he said.

Currently, both arriving and departing guests go through the tunnel, which was designed and built during the 1970s. It hasn't kept up with the growth of the airport over the past 50 years, especially after two TSA lines were added following the 9/11 attacks. Airport officials said the existing checkpoints allow about 300 passengers to move through in an hour, which isn't enough to meet peak travel times. Adding the third line will raise it to about 450 passengers an hour, and the connector bridge has room for more.

Wild was optimistic about what the physical upgrades would mean to the region. By eliminating bottlenecks about how many flyers the TSA could filter through the security checkpoint, LVIA stands a better chance to attract more connections, creating more opportunities for people traveling for vacations or business, she said. Along with the $5 million the airport acquired through the infrastructure deal, she also helped the airport secure a $600,000 federal grant to ease the burden on the airport authority.

"An airport is all about, 'Can you get there from here?' It was really important to me to help them get this so they could expand the number of flights," she said.

Stoudt thanked state, federal and private sector partners for their support, which allowed the project to adapt even during the pandemic. The connector bridge features a medical-grade air purification system and the escalator uses ultraviolet light and other features to minimize the spread of viruses and pathogens. It's a far cry from the austerity measures the authority adopted a decade ago when past financial struggles forced delays to basic maintenance to the facility.

"This is a great day for ABE and the Lehigh Valley. This has been years in the making," he said.

Although the project finished on time, it wasn't always easy. Shortly after breaking ground in May 2021, the authority had to settle a lawsuit after a competing bidder said the authority violated its own procurement process. Once that was dealt with, the authority had to adapt when supply chain issues delayed the arrival of the bridge's exterior and electrical components, Stoudt said. The interior of the building was constructed first and wrapped in plastic before the outer shell arrived. All this was done while routing power from neighboring facilities.

"It was really the first time we've ever built a building from the inside out," Stoudt said. "I really credit our ability to be one of the first airports to the finish line with this bill funding to that ingenuity and that partnership we had as a team."