FAA won't study shorter 8,300-foot runway plan

Warwick Beacon Online

Written by JOHN  HOWELL,

Tue, Dec 4, 2007 


The high ranking Federal Aviation Administration official who recently questioned the costs of proposed improvements at Green Airport, including a longer runway, has informed Mayor Scott Avedisian that the agency won’t study an 8,300-foot runway alternative at the airport.


While the city maintains that that alternative cost less, not only in terms of money but residents displaced, LaVerne Reid, FAA manager of airports for the New England Region, says the agency will continue to look at 8,700-foot and 9,350-foot runways.


In a Nov. 21 letter to the mayor, Reid writes that the 8,700-foot alternative “would achieve environmental and cost savings compared to a 9,350-foot alternative, while capturing 91 percent of the West Coast passenger demand.”


On the other hand, Reid says, an 8,300-foot runway would accommodate 79 percent of the West Coast passenger demand.


Reid’s decision comes about a month following a letter sent to then president of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Mark Brewer, in which she says the FAA has agreed to participate in the airport improvement program at about $150 million for airfield projects including the longer runway. Preliminary estimates put the cost of improvements at more than $500 million.


“This financial piece is a critical element to resolve before we move forward,” Reid wrote Brewer. Reid goes on to say that the FAA is waiting for a financial plan and cautions Brewer to take into consideration a series of assumptions that seem to throw into question the viability of a substantial capital investment.


Reid’s latest letter to Avedisian, however, makes no mention of a specific cost for the project. Rather it concludes more could be gained by the 8,700-foot alternative.


She says the 8,700-foot alternative would be the maximum runway length “that could be accommodated while avoiding the channel of Buckeye Brook and Main Avenue and thereby maintaining the same general reduction in environmental impact and cost associated with an 8,300 foot runway.”


The cost of the proposed improvements, nonetheless, is still on the minds of local officials.


“Looking at the cost at the end [of a study] is not the way to do it,” Mayor Avedisian said yesterday. The mayor said he isn’t surprised by the FAA’s position.


“While they talk a good game, essentially they don’t want to put anything on the table,” he said. Avedisian said he believes the FAA “is throwing away a viable option that could bring compromise to everybody.”


Last week Warwick Representatives Joseph McNamara and Eileen Naughton asked that RIAC make available a detailed financial plan to officials and the public.


In the letter to Dr. Kathleen Hittner, chairperson of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, the Warwick legislators said, “We are very concerned about continued discussions of T.F. Green Airport expansion in light of public comments published by LaVerne F. Reid, New England Regional Airport Manager, who has stated that the Federal Aviation Administration will only fund $150 million for the proposed $538 million-plus project that is currently being considered.”


“It’s nice to see Naugton and McNamara are aboard and saying half a billion is too much,” said Avedisian.


Patti Goldstein, RIAC vice president of communications and marketing, said yesterday that RIAC is in the process of preparing a response to the request.


She said RIAC has met with FAA subsequent to Reid’s letter and that cost estimates for the project are “premature.” Environmental studies of the two runway alternatives being conducted by FAA consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. should be finalized in the spring according to Susan Nichols at VHB.


Even so, the study of alternatives without a cost analysis and projection of how the improvement would be financed continues to raise questions.


City principal planner William DePasquale said yesterday “It makes no sense not to step back to look at the cost and the need.” One of the issues DePasquale said needs to be addressed is RIAC’s bonding match.


Since former Governor Bruce Sundlun separated state airports from the state Department of Transportation, making it a quasi-independent agency under the Economic Development Corporation, it has financed capital improvements through revenue bonds. Also, RIAC does not receive any state funding.


Regardless, under legislation RIAC must gain General Assembly approval to issue revenue bonds.


“We believe that the Rhode Island Airport Corporation has a duty to inform elected officials and the public as to how it plans to finance these various proposals. Therefore, we are respectfully requesting a complete copy of this financial plan to be submitted to the General Assembly and made available to the public, along with a detailed record of consultant fees that have been expended thus far by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation on these proposals,” McNamara and Naughton say in a joint release.


Goldstein said improvements wouldn’t happen in the next few years and that RIAC is working with the FAA and would “brief elected officials when the time is appropriate.” She noted that a preferred runway alternative won’t be selected until sometime next year.


John Silva, FAA environmental program manager, said the decision to study the 8,700-foot alternative, rather than reducing it to 8,300 feet or making it another alternative, was based on the conclusion that the 8,700 foot alternative offered greater utility without that much more impact on the environment or cost.