Warwick Beacon Online

Editorial: For airport, shorter is better       


Tuesday, June 05, 2007 


Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation have arrived at the same conclusion city officials reached years ago – a major extension to Green Airport’s main runway would not only require the acquisition of more than 350 homes, but would be outrageously expensive as well.



In endorsing an 8,700-foot alternative to the 9,350-foot runway proposal, the RIAC board reasoned last week that the shorter runway could effectively provide nonstop service to the West Coast at less cost. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise as calculations made by consultants working for the FAA and released a year ago showed a 8,700-foot runway could offer 91 percent of the fleet serving Green with nonstop transcontinental service, or the same percentage as a 9,350-foot runway. The difference is that by the year 2020, consultants forecast about 80 percent of the fleet could offer the service on the shorter runway as compared to 84 percent on the longer one.



That’s 4 percent more – and don’t forget these are best guess estimates of consultants – for an additional $69 million.



It’s those added dollars, not the 200 fewer homes that would need to be acquired or the city’s east-west road traffic that would be dramatically altered, we believe finally tipped the balance. All options of the 9,350-foot runway, except the alternative RAIC left on the table, would have required a Main Avenue tunnel. At a projected cost of more than $100 million, the tunnel, as John Silva of the FAA concluded, “was a deal-breaker.”



That’s part of it. The 9,350-foot proposal also requires alteration to Buckeye Brook wetlands. As the City Council has the authority to grant wetlands applications, the FAA and RIAC would have faced protracted hearings and possible litigation with no guarantee of an agreement. Even now, RIAC could face that hurdle.



This is not exactly news and reason enough for the city to say, “I told you so.”



But how Green Airport should change so as to meet the needs of the future and maintain its vital role in the state’s economy is far from settled. An 8,700-foot runway would dramatically impact the city and, as consultants have already estimated, cost $469 million.



We are encouraged by RIAC’s decision to look at a shorter runway extension. Now we hope the city is truly included in an examination of that alternative. After all, Warwick’s our hometown and not only should we know something about it, we should have a say in its future.