FAA gives runway expansion details

Homes in Warwick would be taken in all five options to expand the runway at T.F. Green Airport.

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Providence Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- The Federal Aviation Administration has fleshed out its five alternatives for extending the runways at T.F. Green Airport, which include scenarios for tunneling under and moving roads, potentially entering wetlands and, according to Warwick's mayor, eliminating more than 360 houses.

The FAA hopes to extend the airport's main runway from its current 7,166 feet to 9,350 feet, to allow for direct flights to the West Coast. The little-used crosswind runway would also be extended slightly.

The official release of the five runway options signals the official beginning of what promises to be a lengthy fight between opponents of expansion -- led by the city itself -- and the FAA.

Four of the five scenarios would require that part of Main Avenue (Route 113), which runs along the south side of the airport, be tunneled under airport property. Four would require moving all or part of Airport Road, the northern border of the current airport.

All five options would involve taking homes, with most of the impact coming in the Greenwood area of the city. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said that the likely outcome is that more than 360 houses will be taken.

"The five options that they present are, for the future of the city, pretty grim," Avedisian said.

He said that no one option seems preferable over another -- but that the city would examine them all in the next week, and determine whether it would like to fight some plans harder than others, or simply oppose them all.

"At first blush, none of them are any good. It may be that we have to fight all of them."

Under state law, the Warwick City Council has power to veto any intrusion into wetlands on or off airport property. The Buckeye Brook wetlands sit at the north end of the main runway and additional wetlands are located east of the crosswind runway.

The FAA presentation does not include any cost projections, or official estimates on how many houses would be taken, said FAA spokesman Jim Peters. He said he does not know where Avedisian got the figure of more than 360 houses.

Federal and state agencies will have their chance to comment on the five options at a meeting in Providence, on Tuesday, and will hold public meetings for Warwick and Cranston residents on March 22 and 23.

The scenarios were posted yesterday on the website of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., the FAA's consultants on the expansion program at Green Airport, at http://www.vhb.com/pvd/eis/

The five scenarios for expanding the main runway are:

Avoiding impacts to the north: This option would 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 Road and Airport Road. It would also have substantial impact on the Buckeye Brook wetlands.

Avoiding impacts to the south: This option would shift the main runway mostly to the north. It would require relocation of Airport Road, but not Main Avenue. It would require taking many homes in the Spring Green neighborhood, and would impact Buckeye Brook.

Avoid Buckeye Brook: This option would extend the runway both north and south, requiring tunneling Main Avenue under the runway and relocating Airport Road, but would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands. It would impact Greenwood to Bingham Street.

Avoid Buckeye Brook/minimize Airport Road relocation: This option would extend the runway primarily south, so as to avoid the relocation of the east end of Airport Road. It would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands, but would require taking houses in Greenwood to Lucile Street.

Avoid Buckeye Brook/minimize Airport Road relocation: This option is similar to the third alternative in that it extends the runway both north and south, but does not impact the Greenwood neighborhood as dramatically and requires less relocation of Airport Road. It would require taking homes north of the runway to Bellevue Avenue, and south of the runway to Vega Road in Greenwood.

Any airport expansion would also include expansion of the main concourse, relocation and expansion of the cargo facility, changes to the airport's connector with Route 95, and expansions to the parking and fueling facilities, among other changes.

Once the public comment period ends, the six-month process of studying the options begins. VHB will analyze the ramifications on the environment, noise, local property and traffic patterns presented by each scenario.

The FAA projects that traffic at Green Airport will increase more than 60 percent by 2020, from last year's 5.5 million travelers to 8.9 million.

dbarbari@projo.com / (401) 277-8062