Three Michigan Airports Land Big Upgrades with New Federal Funding 

By Isaac Constans

January 30, 2023

Bishop International Airport in Flint, Detroit Wayne County Airport and Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids will receive $62M from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

FLINT—On rainy days, maintenance crews will strategically set up buckets across the concourse of Bishop International Airport, aiming to catch raindrops before they splatter onto the floor. This isn’t anything like a big city airport. And here, costly infrastructure projects like a new roof can pose a financial and logistical headache. 

In recent years, maintenance crews at the airport have adopted a post-storm routine of climbing atop the roof to patch increasingly larger holes and shore up weak spots. And after every heavy rainfall, there’s always more work to be done. The roof is slowly deteriorating and needs to be replaced.

“We’ve had this cloud hanging over our head for a couple years now about this roof having to be completed, and the money having to be spent,” explained Chief Operating Officer Chris Yeates. 

The largest obstacle for Bishop is the same facing infrastructure needs across the state: there’s only so much money in the pot.

But thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bishop International Airport is set to receive about $3.5 million to help clear its terminals of rain-filled buckets. The first part of roof replacement is set to begin in April and finish before the end of September. 

(There will be no impact on flights or business operations, Yeates said.)

“Just structurally maintaining the integrity of the building is going to be huge,” Yeates told The ‘Gander. “It’s great because now instead of having to focus on this portion of the roof, we can turn our slates to other areas for additional development or improvements within the facility.”

Bishop International is one of three Michigan airports receiving federal funds this year. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport will receive $49.6 million to replace passenger boarding bridges, upgrade existing restrooms, and improve accessibility for travelers with disabilities. Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids will receive $8.7 million to overhaul its passenger boarding bridges and eliminate the need for ground-level loading in its newly expanded terminal.

About 33.3 million passengers use the three airports every year, according to state officials.

In total, Michigan is set to receive $2.9 billion from the landmark federal infrastructure law—with the vast majority of the cash going toward transportation. In addition to the airport fixes, state officials also have plans to repair more roads and bridges, and reduce congestion along ports and waterways.

Airport officials are also quick to point out that these improvements aren’t adding any burden to Michigan taxpayers. Instead, they’re the product of long-term saving and new federal grants.

Ford International is in the midst of a huge makeover—expanding its concourse, building a new parking garage, and relocating the air traffic control tower—but none of it directly draws on local taxes. As the project’s website says: “No local taxpayer dollars will be used to finance any of the projects included in the Elevate program, which will be paid for with a combination of federal and state grants, municipal bonds issued by the airport, and user fees.” (User fees are costs incurred by airport passengers.)

“This grant is going to help fund eight new passenger boarding bridges so that this airport can handle more travelers who will be able to walk or roll more comfortably from their gate to their plane,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in announcing the grant. “It’s going to make traveling better. It will allow Grand Rapids to accommodate that increasing passenger growth and support the economic opportunity that’s emerging across West Michigan.”

For Bishop International, the bipartisan infrastructure law means no more kicking the can down the road.

After receiving an estimate on the project in 2018, airport officials have been budgeting out how to undertake such a massive project. The infrastructure grant means that the airport can finally get construction workers on the roof—and not just to patch up holes.

The airport already has a construction company picked out, Yeates said.

“Now that this is getting completed, we can actually start looking at other ways to make improvements and further developments,” Yeates said. 

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