Cincinnati Int’l Invests in the Future With New Transportation Center, Roadway Improvements

Cincinnati Int’l Invests in the Future With New Transportation Center, Roadway Improvements
Scott Berman
Published in: 

If there is one through line for the new rental car and ground transportation center at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), it is convenience. Chief Executive Officer Candace McGraw describes the 1.57 million-square-foot facility as “a walkable solution” that saves travelers time by connecting them directly to the baggage claim and ticketing areas, and eliminating the need to ride shuttles to get rental cars. 

But there are other notable themes, too: a sleek design, energy efficiency, creating options for the future, and a collaborative, flexible process that allowed the airport to navigate challenges and, at one point, shift gears.

The large transportation center is complemented by new terminal roadways that serve the arrivals and departures areas. In all, CVG recently invested about $175 million to improve circulation for visitors and their vehicles.


Project: Consolidated Rental Car/Ground Transportation Center

Location: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Int’l Airport

Related Element: Reconfiguring associated roadways

Cost: $175 million

Funding: 2 bond sales

Construction: Aug. 2018-Oct. 2021

Rental Car & Ground Transportation Center: 1.57 million sq. ft. with 2,710 indoor parking spaces; 9.2-acre footprint

Rental Car Company Tenants: Alamo; AVIS; Budget; Dollar; Enterprise; Hertz; National; Payless; Sixt; Thifty; Zipcar

Arrivals Road: 2,500 ft. long

Elevated Roadway for Departures Level: 1,400 ft. long 

Main Contractor for Facility & Roadwork: Messer Construction Co.

Architect: PGAL Inc.

Key Design Consultants: THP; KLH Engineers; Woolpert; WSP; Stantec; Kolar; Palmer Engineering

Demolition of Old Terminals: O’Rourke Wrecking Co.

Operational Readiness & Transition Consultant: Chrysalis Global

The airport made way for its new transportation facility by demolishing two obsolete terminals in 2016. It had closed Terminal 1 in 2007, and Terminal 2 was shuttered in 2012. Construction of the new rental car and ground transportation center began in August 2018 and ended in October 2021.

Design Features

The new five-story facility serves multiple functions and connects directly to CVG’s terminal. The Rental Car Center, which serves both flying and local customers, includes a ready return lot and a quick turnaround area with interior cleaning, car wash and fueling systems all under one roof. Such consolidation is a first in Kentucky. The customer counters and other rental car functions are located within Ground Transport West, which also houses valet services and areas for on- and off-airport parking lots and hotel shuttles. An existing Ground Transport East area was reprogrammed to accommodate rideshare vehicles, limousines, taxis, shared-ride vans, public transit buses, charter buses and CVG employee shuttles.

The various functions are engineered for convenience and housed in sleek spaces designed to blend seamlessly with one another. For example, arriving passengers headed toward Ground Transport West are led with signage from the baggage claim area along a well-lit corridor that eventually bisects. At that point, passengers who need rental cars are directed to the right and proceed into a brightly lit and decorated two-story space that houses customer service counters for nearly a dozen rental car companies. Passengers needing off-airport parking, hotel shuttles and valet options are directed to the left, down a gradually graded corridor that takes them to the various pickup areas.

Sustainable Solutions

In addition to being engineered to serve passengers and customers with efficiency, the new facility is also about energy efficiency. Project designers included energy-efficient systems and renewable materials throughout, and oriented the entire structure for minimal heat gain during the summer while also taking advantage of north daylight exposure.

The tenants are doing their part regarding sustainability, too. Rental car companies at CVG have begun the process of adding electric vehicles and the charging equipment they require. “And more can be expected in the future,” says McGraw.

By its very presence, the facility eliminates emissions from shuttle buses that previously carried travelers to and from remote surface lots. Ground Transport West reduces curb-front traffic from vehicles dropping off and picking up passengers, adds McGraw.

Construction Challenges

Between the usual need to minimize impact to travelers and the unusual challenges presented by COVID-19, this project was no walk in the park. McGraw notes that more than 18 months of the construction work took place during the pandemic, and the airport experienced supply chain and labor issues that were standard at the time.

Reconfiguring entrance roadways for the pre-existing and new facilities was another notable component of the project. Roadway work included:

  • constructing a new entrance and exit from the terminal garage,
  • replacing an old, winding access and departure route with more direct access to the terminal and ground transportation areas, and 
  • constructing an elevated roadway for departures.

The new entrance/exit road for the terminal garage was completed in 2018, and the new departures road opened in 2019. The elevated departures roadway was finished in August 2019 and accounted for $34 million of the $175 million total project cost.

“All of the improvements allowed for construction of a much more efficient building footprint,” McGraw remarks.

Rising Standards

Joshua Blum, senior director of Real Estate for Hertz, was one of the key team members for the rental car center project. Blum credits CVG for being an industry leader in recognizing that rental car customers are extremely valuable to airports and should be treated as such. Facilities for these crucial customers have often been treated as an afterthought for too many years, he adds.

Naturally, Blum is pleased to see current trends toward enhancing the experience for rental car customers and hopes other airports will follow CVG’s lead. “Whether you are a business traveler or visiting Cincinnati with your family, there is no greater upgrade than going from a customer experience where you wait for a shuttle bus to take you to a surface lot open to the elements, to the present day where you can merely walk to your vehicle,” says Blum.

Communication and Collaboration

The process of planning, designing and building the new rental car facility at CVG brought stakeholders together early and often. McGraw describes the airport’s strategy as “diligent planning ahead, conservative budgeting, hiring the best—local if available—and engaging leadership on the CVG board of directors and staff.”

There was a lot of communication, she adds.

Blum notes that there was a lot of collaboration geared toward creating options for stakeholders. He firmly believes that collaboration should begin early for anything that involves the future layout of an airport. Doing so can help operators avoid key problems, he stresses. “Too often, great design alternatives for rental car facilities are taken off the table because of a decision made during the master plan process,” Blum comments.

Early and continual collaboration also prevents airport and rental car stakeholders from making incorrect assumptions about each other’s operations, he adds. Blum advocates listening to many voices to address needs from multiple angles. “The better stakeholders are at drilling down in to the hows and whys, the better the facility,” he says.

Shifting Gears

The continuing communication and collaboration that leadership expected from the project team enabled flexibility—and turned out to be crucial. Cassie Krautsack, CVG’s project manager and senior program manager for the facility, explains why:

“When we were at 60% design with the project, we were also in the midst of updating our master plan, which indicated we needed to plan for expansion of ticketing. At that moment in time, we decided to pause design and reevaluate our future needs. Ultimately, we changed the design to accommodate future expansion of ticketing. We were able to do this with no impact to the schedule by working closely with other internal teams as well as the design and construction teams.”

In retrospect, she believes it was crucial to pull everyone together to make decisions in a timely manner so both the budget and schedule could be met.

Krautsack urges anyone contemplating a large building initiative such as a rental car center to remain flexible and always look at the “big picture.” She notes that airports working on multi-year projects need to monitor changing conditions and be willing to stop, evaluate and redirect, if needed. Among her other takeaways: “Always engage your Operations departments early in the design process. Tapping into the knowledge and expertise of those who are working on the ground every day can lead to new ideas and suggestions, many of which can improve your design. This early engagement also helps with the inevitable change management that comes with opening a new facility.”

In the end, it’s the result of a project team’s collaboration, focus and flexibility that really counts. And stakeholders are sanguine about what was achieved at CVG. As Blum puts it, “The best airport rental car facilities are those where the stakeholders stay focused on achieving a ‘win-win’ solution. Happy rental car customers are happy airport customers, and vice versa.”

Future Plans

Executives at CVG are not blinking as they look forward. In fact, they are eyeing several more projects intended to bring the airport briskly into the future and help foster new opportunities. McGraw cites several examples, including additional cargo developments, terminal improvements for enhanced customer service, and investments in behind-the-scenes systems to improve operational and energy efficiencies.

The new consolidated rental car and ground transportation center, which opened in October 2021, is a testament to the proactive approach that airport leadership takes. McGraw expects the new facility to elevate the overall CVG experience for years to come.

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