1st glimpse of 8,700-foot runway       

Warwick Beacon Online

Thu, Jun 07 07 



Although the Rhode Island Airport Corporation voted only last week to examine a shorter-than-9,350-foot option to extending Green’s main runway, consultants studying airport improvements have already drafted drawings of the proposal and will be able to address questions about it at a June 14 meeting.



“We’re very encouraged to update everyone and to be as responsive as we can,” Carol Lurie said Tuesday. Lurie, project manager for consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., will discuss the two runway options under consideration – a 9,350-foot and an 8,700-foot version – at the meeting at the Crowne Plaza. A presentation lasting about an hour will start at 5:30 p.m.



But city officials are questioning the value of conducting the meeting when little information on the 8,700-foot alternative is available. Both City Planner Mark Carruolo and principal planner William DePasquale suggest postponing the meeting so that the city and residents have the chance to study the shorter runway extension plan.



“They [VHB] should have all the answers for all the people and if they’re not prepared to give answers they shouldn’t have it,” DePasquale said. Carruolo called the meeting a “half meeting” because there would be answers on the 9,350-foot proposal and not the shorter alternative.



“We can’t say what the impacts are,” Lurie said of the shorter runway option explaining consultants are now in the process of conducting those studies. Nonetheless, those attending the meeting will get a good picture of how the runway could be configured as well as the impacts of improving the safety areas of the shorter Runway 16-34. That runway, sometimes referred to as the “crosswind runway,” wouldn’t be lengthened. But extending the safety zones to comply with Federal Aviation Administration standards would require substantial wetlands alterations.



“We will explain what we are looking at and how we arrived at where we are,” Lurie said of the presentation. The presentation will include cost estimates and numbers as to the potential numbers of aircraft and passengers that would be affected by each of the alternatives.



A longer Runway 5-23, which is now 7,166 feet, is seen as essential if Green is to offer airlines the capability of offering nonstop service to the West Coast. VHB has calculated a 9,350-foot runway would enable about 90 percent of the fleet now serving Green to reach West Coast destinations without refueling. A shorter runway would place fuel and hence load limitations of aircraft thereby reducing the numbers of passengers that could be served.



A 8,700-foot runway, however, does not dramatically restrict fleet usage.



Both proposed runway extensions are predominately to the north, which comes as a surprise since an extension to the south impacts less wetlands and it was assumed RIAC and the FAA would seek to avoid any action requiring Warwick City Council approval. As the law presently stands, RIAC would need Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Environmental Management permits to alter wetlands with final approval coming from the council.



What has killed a southerly extension of the runway is the projected $112 million cost of tunneling Main Avenue. In the words of FAA environmental program manager John Silva, “It was the deal breaker.”



The new “deal breaker” could be Buckeye Brook.



The 9,350-foot alternative would require the relocation of the stream’s bed. The 8,700-foot version, however, leaves the stream untouched. Relocation of Airport Road would impact wetlands, however.



Two options are being considered so as to maintain Main Avenue in virtually the same location as it is today. Lurie said one option would be to elevate the southerly end of the runway by about six feet so that the extension would not intrude into the “object free area” required by FAA standards. A second plan is to “straighten” Main Avenue, thereby moving it further south.



“This is an important east-west artery for the city, a hurricane evacuation route,” Lurie said.



Both versions of a longer runway would require the realignment of Post Road having it intersect with Warwick Avenue across from Squantum Drive.



Lurie said the added level of analysis required of the 8,700-foot option would add about two months to the study process. She said she expects the final step in the analysis – a record of decision from the FAA – would come in late 2008.



The 9,350-foot option would require the acquisition of 323 homes and 71 businesses whereas the 8,700-foot version would mean the loss of 136 homes and 71 businesses. Most of the businesses affected are not in the path of Runway 5-23, but rather are within the extended safety zone needed for Runway 16-34 and clustered at the intersection of Post and Airport roads.



Responding to suggestions that the June 14 meeting should be postponed, Lurie observed it has been several months since the last informational meeting on proposed airport improvements.



“It’s important people understand what we’re doing,” she said.



Once VHB has completed a 30 percent design of the 8,700-foot alternative, Lurie said there would be more detailed information regarding what homes would need to be taken as well as costs and environmental impacts. At that time another meeting would be held.



In addition to maps and information concerning runway alternatives and other airport improvements, Lurie said RIAC and VHB staff would be available to discuss the ongoing voluntary home acquisition program.