Runway plan takes homes, businesses

Providence Journal

09:57 AM EST on Saturday, March 10, 2007

By Cynthia Needham, Journal Staff Writer


WARWICK — If the main runway at T.F. Green Airport is expanded, it will swallow at least 204 houses, up to 53 businesses and dozens of acres of wetlands, according to a draft summary of a Federal Aviation Administration report released yesterday, examining the consequences of expansion.


Expansion would also increase noise pollution and cut the city’s tax base by as much as $2.2 million a year. On the flip side, it is predicted to generate $138 million in business revenue within the next 13 years.


Since February 2005, the FAA has been studying the local impact of extending T.F. Green’s main runway to 9,350 feet, which would allow airlines to provide nonstop coast-to-coast service. As part of that review, FAA consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. has examined the effects five proposed expansion scenarios would have on the local community — namely, on quality of life, economics and the environment.


Depending on which, if any, option is ultimately selected, the draft summary shows the following:


•204 to 339 houses would be taken


•10 to 32 acres of wetlands would be taken


•6 to 53 businesses would be displaced


•36 to 60 houses would experience such an increase in the level of noise that they would become eligible for a volunteer land-acquisition program


The FAA has not ranked any one alternative above another, saying it does not plan to choose a preferred scenario until the summer.


But the release of the consequences summary yesterday signals the beginning of what is expected to be a protracted battle between expansion critics — many of them at the city level — and the FAA.


“No matter what you do, there will be adverse effects,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said. “All the options will encroach on different parts of the city.”


Warwick’s principal planner was more forthright. “Whatever alternative you look at, you are devastating either neighborhoods and family homes, or destroying wetlands,” said William J. DePasquale. “It seems like the impact of all this expansion is disproportionately set on the community.”


City officials say they’ve known for years what expansion would do to their community. They expressed frustration yesterday that the FAA is only now recognizing those impacts.


But Brenda Pope, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s vice president of environmental systems, urged residents and officials not to panic. “People should not draw any conclusions here because no decisions have been made at this point,” she said.


The summary’s findings indicate that extending the runway north, beyond Airport Road and into the Spring Green neighborhood, would have the greatest impact on housing, displacing more than 300 houses.


“In general, all the options that go to the north will impact the residential properties more than those that go to the south,” said Carol Lurie, project manager at VHB.


Several other options under consideration call for more expansion to the south, or a hybrid plan, with expansion in both directions. But those alternatives create their own obstacles, including eclipsing parts of the Buckeye Brook wetlands, or requiring that parts of Route 113 be tunneled under airport property, Lurie acknowledged.


Complicating matters is the required upgrade to the airport’s secondary crosswind runway (the runway used when wind patterns change) that must accompany any expansion of the main runway. The secondary runway would not be extended, but the security areas surrounding it would be, cutting into either the Buckeye Brook at one end or the busy commercial area at the intersection of Airport and Post roads at the other. Approximately 80 percent of the businesses displaced by expansion would come at or near that intersection, the report shows.


THERE WAS ALSO good news in yesterday’s summary. Aviation-related economic gains in the state of Rhode Island would total $53 million in personal income and $138 million in business revenues by 2020, it predicts. Plus, expansion would not significantly affect air quality or vehicle traffic around the airport.


FAA officials say it is still too early to isolate more exact consequences of expansion — including what it would do to air traffic — without knowing which way the runway might expand.


Before it selects a top choice, the FAA says it will work with city and state agencies to get technical input on its draft. It also plans to hold a public meeting, probably in late May. The FAA will report back to the state airport corporation with a final recommendation later this year. If expansion is approved, construction would not start for at least a few years, an airport corporation official said yesterday.


The proposed scenarios are posted on VHB’s website at:


The five options for expanding the main runway are as follows:


•Extend the main runway mostly to the south. It would require that Main Avenue be tunneled under the runway, but would not require relocation of Airport Road to the north. It would require taking a substantial number of houses in the Greenwood area, and some commercial areas at the corner of Post and Airport roads. It would also have substantial impact on the Buckeye Brook wetlands.


•Extend the main runway mostly to the north. It would require moving Airport Road, but not Main Avenue, as well as taking many houses in the Spring Green neighborhood, and would impact Buckeye Brook.


•Extend the runway both north and south, requiring tunneling Main Avenue under the runway and moving Airport Road, but would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands to the north and would take some houses in the Greenwood neighborhood.


•Extend the runway primarily south, to avoid moving the east end of Airport Road. It would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands, but would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses in Greenwood.


•Extend the runway both north and south. This alternative requires less relocation of Airport Road and limits effects on wetlands. It would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses both north and south of the runway.