Airport Parking

Former state legislator Dick Sadler drives to the new free parking lot of the Casper/Natrona County Airport, which is over a mile away from the terminal. Statute 31-5-501, which Sadler helped pass, mandates that Wyoming airports provide 20 percent of their parking spaces for free. 

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

Why build parking if no one can use it?

That’s a question that has to be asked of the Casper/Natrona County International Airport board.

Wyoming law specifies that airports in the state must offer 20 percent of their parking spaces for free. Already, that option flew under the radar at the airport – signs don’t clearly advertise the option of a taking a slightly longer but still reasonable walk to take advantage of the free parking.

It’s there, though, both in the airport and in the statute: The airport, along with other county-controlled boards, is allowed to regulate its own traffic and parking “for the welfare of the general public or for the proper use of public lands.”

But in 2012, the airport expanded its paid parking area, and that meant it had to offer more free spaces, too. The site chosen for the additional free parking: a lot almost a mile and a half from the airport terminal, accessible only via roads that don’t have sidewalks or lighting.

This is Wyoming, where winters are bitterly cold, snowy and icy. Nights – and early mornings, when many flights leave the airport — are dark except for stars. How is it reasonable to expect customers to trudge through wintry weather in the dark, carrying their luggage and maybe small children?

Dick Sadler, the former state legislator who proposed the law in the 1970s, has similar objections. He said a friend approached him after an airport board meeting and gave him directions to the new free lot. That person advised Sadler to reset his odometer before leaving, so that he’d see the distance.

How did Sadler, the author of the law, react to the distance?

“I damn near died when that guy told me to [reset my odometer],” Sadler told the Star-Tribune recently.

The new arrangement might be within the letter of the law. But certainly, it is not within the spirit of the law – and it is not in the spirit of good service, either. The general public is not benefiting from free parking that is difficult and potentially dangerous to access.

Of course, the airport doesn’t have a lot of money at its disposal to solve the problem, and Allegiant Air’s recent announcement that it’s pulling service to Las Vegas at the beginning of next year won’t help.

Many of us do not mind paying to park as close as possible to the terminal when we fly. And that is a good thing. Airport manager Glenn Januska says parking revenue is the difference between the airport being self-sufficient and needing financial support from the county.

It’s encouraging to know, at least, that the airport’s master plan, which was released last year, stipulates that any new parking be built in places that are easily walkable from the terminal.

But that doesn’t address any current discrepancy. Airport officials should reexamine their decision and make a better one that truly accommodates the public – and better complies with the spirit of the law.

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