Green Airport will get safety improvements to its shorter crosswind runway, but they won’t be made with the need to relocate the Post and Airport Road intersection or acquire 11 businesses and a single residence.
Interim Rhode Island Airport Corporation President Peter Frazier reported yesterday that, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the parties have arrived at a plan that will reduce the runway safety areas on Runway 16-34 without compromising safety. In addition, the plan significantly cuts projected costs and reduces the amount of impact on Buckeye Brook wetlands.
“From a value standpoint,” Frazier said, “this is an appropriate investment of agency funds for the benefits received.”
The practicality of pursuing the initial concept, which was included in the environmental impact statement and was included in the FAA’s record of decision, came into question as project manager AECOM priced out the safety project. Initial estimates for the work ranged from $69 million to $77 million.
Frazier said AECOM, which RIAC has retained to manage the safety project and an extension of the airport’s longer runway to 8,700 feet, took engineering designs a step further, putting the costs at $100 million to $110 million.
AECOM’s work on the runway extension put that project at $83 million, or $5 million less than what was being estimated in the impact statement. Design work is proceeding on the longer runway, which is projected to be operational by 2017.
But there are going to be changes to the runway safety areas on Runway 16-34.
By scaling back the length of EMAS (engineered mass arresting system) at both ends of the runway, the Post and Airport Road intersection won’t need to be relocated and the intrusion into the wetlands on the east end of the runway will be reduced. It’s the cost, however, that takes the big hit. The projected cost of the improvements drops from a high of $110 million to $44 million.
Frazier said removal of Hangar 1 would be incorporated in the new plan. The relocation of Taxiway C is being deferred.
Frazier said he has been contacting the 11 businesses and residences that would have been acquired under the initial plan to inform them that they are no longer in the path of the project. He said that the FAA would fund the work at 75 percent of cost, as RIAC requested, but funding is subject to compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Frazier said there is no need to reopen the EIS, but a revaluation of impacts, which are expected to be reduced, will be done.
Design of the runway safety areas will start immediately, but construction won’t begin until the revaluation of impacts is finalized. Under the plan 400 feet of EMAS, a form of concrete block that crumbles under the weight of an aircraft, at the 16 end of the runway will be reduced to 255 feet. At the other end of the runway the EMAS will be extended from 400 to 462 feet.
The FAA deadline for Green to implement the enhanced safety areas is Dec. 31, 2015.
“We will meet that,” Frazier said confidently.
When completed, the safety areas will be comparable to those of much more heavily used runways at Logan, LaGuardia and JFK Airport, he said.
Still in question is the level of funding RIAC will receive for the runway extension. RIAC has applied for a letter of intent (LOI) that would commit the FAA to refund a set percentage of the extension cost. RIAC has asked for 75 percent funding.
“I’m comfortable we’ll get a sufficient level of funding that this project is a go,” Frazier said.
But that’s not a given.
Frazier is hopeful of hearing from the FAA in late September. Of concern is the memorandum of understanding reached with the City Council by which the council dropped its appeal for a review of the FAA decision. Under that agreement, RIAC was to have had a schedule that would give property owners a timetable for when they could expect to be acquired.
Frazier said he would hope to have those answers by the end of this month. Also, he said he has been working with Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and the city on relocation of the Winslow Park softball and soccer fields. It was thought the fields could be relocated to the Knight Campus of CCRI, but there is not adequate space, given college priorities. Attention is now being focused on airport land that has been cleared of homes in the neighborhood accessed by Lakeshore Drive in an area that had been proposed for corporate hangars. Access to the fields would be from an extension of the road off Airport Road that currently services the maintenance garage.
Timing is critical to the projects.
Frazier said he wants to have the playing fields built and operable – they would need a season of no play before they could be used – before Winslow Park is closed. More important, from the perspective of the airport, is runway work.
“The key is we can’t have them [the runways] down at the same time,” said Frazier.
As for what impact reduced runway safety areas might have on Green, Frazier said it would not affect use of the airport by Boeing 747s, as they are capable to using the extended Runway 5-23.
“The level of safety is sufficient to meet FAA certification. We will have a safer airport,” he said.