The chronic parking shortage at John Wayne Airport eased this week with the opening of 1,000 new spaces--just in time for the airport's busiest weekend.
But Thanksgiving travelers who park for longer than a day should expect to pay extra for prime spaces.
The renovated structure, just across from the main terminal, has a daily rate of $11, compared to $7 at the long-term lots about half a mile away. Both lots, however, have the same hourly rate for short-term parkers: $1.
The structure, which opened Sunday, is the first phase of a $27-million project to expand the two parking garages. The second structure, containing nearly 1,000 more spaces, is scheduled to open next spring.
The construction project took away 721 spaces, making an already tight parking situation worse. The shortage was especially noticeable in the middle of the week, when the lots closest to the terminal regularly fill to capacity.
The situation forced travelers to use the airport's less convenient long-term parking area, which is across the San Diego Freeway; shuttle buses carry passengers to the terminal.
"People have been complaining that there's no spaces," said Humberto Rocha, a bus driver for a valet service that shuttles travelers from the Main Street parking lot to the airport. "I think it's going to help a lot."
Officials said the new spaces will ease the parking shortage around the terminal and allow more travelers to park closer to the airport.
"This should be a real bonus for them," said airport spokesperson Kathleen Campini Chambers. "They will be really pleased to have the additional spaces."
Socorro Hernandez, a supervisor for Ampco System Parking, said he expects the number of available parking spaces at the long-term lot to double with the opening of the closer structure.
The full project, when completed, is also expected to ease congestion around the pickup areas at the airport. A road will be built between the two parking structures as well as a staging area for all high-occupancy vehicles.
All hotel shuttles, buses and taxis will be diverted to the new staging area, clearing the other roads for other users.
Congestion has increased in recent years with the steady rise in the number of passengers who use John Wayne Airport. The airport served 4.5 million passengers in 1990 but now serves more than 7 million.
As usual, officials expect big crowds this Thanksgiving weekend. Chambers said Wednesday and Sunday of the holiday week are traditionally the busiest days of the year.
She encourages travelers to arrive at least one hour before their flight departs.
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The first of two parking structure renovations at John Wayne Airport has been completed. It adds about 1,000 spaces, bringing the total to about 1,800. A second structure is under construction. When work is finished, the two projects will have added about 1,960 parking places.