COLUMBIA — Columbia Regional Airport runways are scheduled for a $28.5 million makeover starting next spring, thanks to a Federal Aviation Administration grant the city will likely accept in mid-September.
The upgrade plans include taxiway improvements and the purchase of land to allow for future runway expansion.
If the project goes according to plan, contractors will start replacing the outdated concrete on the primary taxiway for Runway 2-20, the longer of the airport’s two runways, in spring 2012.
Airport Manager Andrew Schneider said projects such as the taxiway improve safety and increase capacity. It also allows the airport to work on lower priority items in the future.
“Eventually we want to do a terminal upgrade, but that’s hard to do when the concrete isn’t up to date,” he said. “Our first priority is the airfield, and after that we’ll have more opportunity to do terminal projects with federal money.”
Schneider said there have been heaving problems with the concrete on the taxiway. Because the FAA considers that such a high priority, it is giving the airport the money to fix it.
The project is funded almost entirely by a $27.9 million FAA grant that includes annual entitlement money and additional discretionary money intended to address high-priority projects. Transportation sales tax will pay for the remaining 5 percent of the cost or $1.5 million.
Randy Clark, general manager of Central Missouri Aviation, said passengers might choose other airports if the airport failed to make the improvements. Most people are unaware of the benefits the airport brings, he said.
“In my mind it’s just general maintenance and just upkeep of the airport in general, which is an incredible investment by the city of Columbia,” Clark said.
Airport officials will also work to buy additional land to allow an expansion of Runway 2-20 over the next few years. This process is already under way, Schneider said.
“The way the airport is laid out, if we extend our main runway, 2-20, it affects (Rangeline Road),” he said. Buying the additional land will allow the airport to realign the road.
The runway expansion is scheduled for the next two or three years.
According to the proposed city budget, the airport has seen an increase in passengers during the past few years, with about 25,000 passengers in 2009 and more than 35,000 in 2010.
The airport’s smaller runway is scheduled for expansion in 2013. It will be lengthened and widened so regional jets can use it. No additional land will be required for that.
“The airport is getting to be 40 years old,” Clark said. “It’s time to start fixing things that go by the wayside.”
City Manager Mike Matthes's proposed budget for fiscal 2012 includes $32 million for the airport, up from $3.54 million in fiscal 2011. The vast majority of that reflects the infusion of FAA money. Operating costs are projected to remain relatively stable.