City considers runway replacement
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The Colorado Department of Transportation has said the Glenwood Springs Airport runway needs to be replaced in five to seven years to the tune of $500,000 to $1 million.The cost of runway replacement and discussion of a possible south bridge project have the potential to revive an old debate – should Glenwood Springs keep the airport or should it look at alternative uses for the space?”That’s been going on for as long as I can remember,” City Council member Dave Johnson said. “I think the constituencies are, ‘Wouldn’t land be put to better use for the city as a whole, how many people are we really serving, and where’s the argument for the real necessity of it?'”He said people should keep in mind that the public voted almost 10 years ago to keep the airport open, a decision that might need to be revisited in another vote. But he believes discussing all the options proactively would be a good thing. He said that there are some obvious issues that might come into play, such as housing and traffic.”I think we should see what alternatives are out there,” he said. “Do we want to put some density housing out there for workers?”The airport was once the only location for a helicopter to land. But a helicopter landing pad was constructed last December at Valley View Hospital.
The project to construct a bridge over the Roaring Fork River in south Glenwood Springs has preliminary plan alternatives involving the airport. One goes across the runway, one would tunnel under the runway and one would go around the south end of the airport. No one involved seems to think tunneling under the runway would be feasible.City manager Jeff Hecksel has said the discussion about the south bridge’s relationship to the airport could be premature, since a preferred location of the bridge hasn’t yet been identified.Steve Shute, airport manager Dick Weinberg and City Council member Dave Merritt said looping the road approaching the bridge to the south of the airport should work. Shute is a pilot and member of the Airport Advisory Board.”Some people thought the south bridge would jeopardize the airport,” Shute said. “There’s certainly a good way to align that road and bridge around the south end of the airport without destroying the airport or even affecting the hangars on the south end.””There are ways around the airport,” Merritt said.
Shute said he’s not sure anything has changed in the airport debate for the past 35 years. Some people seem to believe that the city will close the airport eventually because it’s valuable land in a city with little room to expand, he said, but an airport is an essential part of any town and provides its own hub of commerce, even if on a smaller scale than airports in Aspen, Eagle and Rifle.Those airports are shifting more and more toward accommodating jets to the exclusion of smaller airplanes, and are more expensive, according to Shute, Weinberg and Merritt.”It’s an issue of yes, you can go to Rifle, but some pilots are finding Rifle doesn’t serve their needs as well as it used to,” Merritt said. “Frankly a Lear jet generates a lot more revenue.””The pilots who come in and out of here, most of them are not rich people looking for a country club,” Weinberg said. “Glenwood is very inexpensive to operate in and out of.”Weinberg said a jet flew into the Glenwood airport for about the third time ever recently. He said the pilot did it to spite the Eagle and Aspen airports who charge higher prices for fuel.He said intangible benefits are brought by people like executives, state engineers and doctors who fly into Glenwood. A 1998 CDOT study concluded the direct and indirect economic benefit of the airport to be around $7 million per year, according to an Ad Hoc Airport Land Committee report. Also at that time, ad hoc committee members concluded that businesses using the airport represented about 1,100 employees in the Glenwood Springs area.Shute said it’s likely the economic benefits and amount of business use have since increased.”Some people don’t realize how much money is generated from that airport just by making it easier access into the city,” Weinberg said.
The airport operates on its own airport fund independent of the city. It collects revenues from a fuel tax and user fees. After expenses, around $10,000 to $20,000 a year is saved, according to Weinberg. Most of that goes toward capital improvement projects.Weinberg said that the airport wouldn’t ask for a grant of city funds to repave the runway. At most, it would request a loan. But he believes that the project could be funded mostly by state and federal funds. He said he was confident the airport could expect about half of the project to be funded by CDOT at the moment. He also plans to apply for federal funds.Weinberg said Glenwood’s airport also fulfills a “reliever” role, illustrated last spring when he estimated about 22 airplanes flew into Glenwood because the Aspen Airport closed. That role is one thing that could help secure federal funds, he said. But the runway may not need to be replaced just yet.
Shute and Weinberg suspect the runway at the Glenwood Springs airport does not have to be replaced in five to seven years. They believe continuing regular maintenance could extend the life of the runway. “I think it’s a statement that needs a little scrutiny,” Shute said. “As long as maintenance sealing continues, the runway will still be usable by the small, light aircraft that use it today.””I believe the runway’s usable for at least 10 years,” Weinberg said.Contact Pete Fowler: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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