Modeling and Evaluating Alternatives to Enhance Access to an Airport and Meet Future Expansion Needs

A large airport is often considered as a “city” which includes the airport with terminals, apron, runways, and parking decks, and on-airport businesses such as air cargo, logistics, offices, retail, and hotels. An airport plays a vital role in enhancing the economic development of a region. The aviation sector accounted for more than 5.2% of the United States Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generated $1.8 trillion in total economic activity.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated a 100% increase in passenger traffic by 2035 from the current level. Recent studies indicate that airport and airspace capacity already constrain flight operations at many large airports in the United States. To meet the growing demand, airports like Charlotte Douglas International (CLT) airport are working on plans to expand and increase the airport capacity.

While economic development is the primary benefit of airport expansion, it is unclear how the airport's increased passenger trips can be better managed using the existing road infrastructure and space restrictions. The addition of runways/taxiways at the airport often leads to the relocation/full closure of some of the existing roads. This necessitates the need to reconfigure the traffic flow around the airport, at the earliest phase of airport expansion, and formulate better access management strategies to proactively improve the road operational performance. However, there is little research available on the surface traffic consequences of proposed airport expansion projects. There is, therefore, a need to research, model, and evaluate the effect of airport expansion on traffic in its vicinity.

Large airports are major trip attractors and generators. The increase in the number of enplaning and deplaning passengers is expected to further increase the number of trips attracted to or generated by an airport. It is important to assess temporal variations in operational performance on existing roads around the airport, understand what works (or may not work), and develop plans to improve access to the airport. These plans may include direct and fast inbound/outbound access from/to the airport to/from major roads, or other conventional or unconventional solutions (for example, intersection designs). There is a need to research, examine the traffic patterns over time, and evaluate alternative strategies for fast inbound/outbound access from/to the airport.

Although the specific nature and scope of the access-related problems vary from one large airport to another large airport, the aforementioned challenges associated with airport expansion and access concerns are relatively common to many large airports. This research will provide useful insights to the airport managers/authorities by exploring data-driven methodologies, highlighting the inbound/outbound surface traffic access issues, and evaluating alternatives for their effective management. The methodology and solutions may also be applicable to other large trip attractors/generators.

Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility
UNC Charlotte
Principal Investigator: 
Srinivas S. Pulugurtha, PhD
PI Contact Information: 

Director of IDEAS Center
Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9201 University City Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28223-0001
Tel. (W): +1 704 687 1233

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

Total Project Cost: 
Agency ID or Contract Number: 
March 2021 to February 2022
Project Number: 



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