Lewis airport runway rehab under way
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org August 14, 2013 4:02PM
Updated: September 17, 2013 7:49AM
ROMEOVILLE — The “beep, beep, beep” sound construction vehicles make when backing up was music to U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski’s ears, he said Wednesday as he stood on a runway at Lewis University Airport.
Lipinski, D-Western Springs, and other local officials gathered on the runway for a press conference announcing Phase 2 funding for a $4.2 million repaving project for the airport’s east-west runway, portions of which date back to the 1950s.
The project is important because it means jobs for 72 workers, Lipinski said.
And the runway upgrade means improved service at the airport, which handles about 120,000 flights a year and is crucial to getting corporate executives into and out of Will County, Romeoville Mayor John Noak said. The airport is up and running today and serving the county, Noak said.
“We’re not talking about a project that’s decades away,” he said.
The runway upgrade could help Will County land a Fortune 500 company, which is one of the goals of the Will County Center for Economic Development, Noak said.
“Having a vibrant corporate airport here is key,” Noak said.
Lipinski, who sits on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee, helped get the runway project into the 2012 federal transportation reauthorization bill.
“He’s done a whale of a job for us,” Will County Executive Larry Walsh said of Lipinski, who inherited the airport site when congressional districts were redrawn after the 2010 Census.
The Joliet Region Port District, which owns the airport, and the state each chipped in $211,000 for the runway work.
“This shows what can be done when people work together,” Lipinski said.
Last year, $2.5 million in funding for the project was available so the work could be bid. This year, the remaining $1.4 million was released by the Federal Aviation Administration to finish the project.
While the funding was split over two years, all the construction work on the project is being done this year.
“Basically, the work will just continue seamlessly,” Lipinski spokesman Guy Tridgell said.
Airport Director Chris Lawson said the project started on May 15 and should be completed before winter. For some sections of the runway, construction crews are digging 12 feet deep to remove silty soil that doesn’t compact well enough to support a modern runway, Lawson said.
“When you have 75,000- to 80,000-pound planes landing on it, we want to be able to support them,” he said.
The project includes digging up the oldest 3,000-foot portion of the east-west runway completely, and asphalt overlay and strengthening for the 5,700-foot newer portion, Lawson said.
The airport’s 6,500-foot north-south runway opened in 2004.
Now that the runway project has been funded and is under way, airport officials are hoping to find the money for an air traffic control tower. Lawson estimated a tower would cost about $5 million.
Lipinski said it would be tough to get that kind of money from the federal government. But the project could happen if there were another combined pool of money from federal, state and local sources, he said.
Before it could be built, the tower would have to be approved by the FAA. The FAA won’t approve the project without proof that funding would be available, Lawson said. The airport has the staffing necessary to meet federal criteria for a tower, but money is the missing link, he said.
The air traffic control tower would help the airport handle planes as they land on the crisscrossing east-west and north-south runways. It would be like having a police officer to direct traffic on two busy intersecting streets, Lawson said.