Prescott accepts FAA grant for airport runway improvements

Prescott accepts FAA grant for airport runway improvements
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By Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT – The Prescott Airport’s largest improvement project in nearly two decades is gearing up to get under way by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, the Prescott City Council accepted a $2.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the first phase of a $7.4 million safety improvement project on the airport’s main runway.

The most recent comparable project took place in 1992, Airport Manager Ben Vardiman said, when the city built a parallel runway and associated taxiway for $4.6 million (in 1992 dollars).

The upcoming project is necessary to bring the Prescott Airport into compliance with federal requirements for the “runway safety area,” according to a city memo. “Presently, this runway does not meet existing requirements for the Runway Safety Area,” the memo adds.

Vardiman explained that the safety-area standards are in effect to provide a margin of error “in case an aircraft leaves the paved surface.”

The regulations require a safety-area width of 250 feet off of each side, and 1,000 feet off of each end. Currently, that area has obstructions such as fencing and a roadway, as well as drainage issues, which prevent it from meeting the federal standards.

Among the improvements will be: relocating 400 feet of the runway (the end closest to Highway 89), and adding it to the other end to ensure a full 1,000 feet runway safety area on the highway end; shifting taxiways to match the relocated runway end; replacing 7,000 feet of drainage ditch with storm drain pipe to eliminate steep infield slopes; providing paved shoulders on the runway; and reconstruction of failing pavement.

The $2,571,365 grant that the City Council accepted this week is just the first portion of a grant that Vardiman expects to ultimately total about $7.4 million. The city should receive the second portion of the FAA grant in July, he said.

Vardiman explained that the grant comes with a commitment of a 2.5-percent match from both the city and state.

That prompted Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles to question Vardiman about the likelihood of receiving grant money from the budget-strapped state and federal governments.

“We have received the tentative allocation letter from the FAA,” Vardiman said, adding, “We have a commitment from the federal government that we’re going to receive this money.”

Meanwhile, the city already has allocated its share of the first-phase match ($67,668) in the current fiscal year’s budget.

While the FFA grants for the project will come in two phases, Vardiman said the construction of the improvements should occur in one phase. He expects the construction to begin by about December.

Although the project will have some impact on air traffic at the airport, Vardiman said, “We’ll work to minimize it.”

Along with the acceptance of the FFA grant, the City Council also unanimously approved a $604,331 contract with Dibble Engineering for the design and bid services for the project.

Vardiman pointed out that the runway reconfiguration has been in the works for more than five years. “We’ve been working since 2005 to bring this project to fruition,” he told the council.

Mayor Marlin Kuykendall referred to the project as “moving the box…to address safety issues on the west end of the runway.”

Added Councilwoman Lora Lopas: “This has been long-awaited.”

Even though the project will improve safety at the airport, Vardiman said it would not increase the capabilities to accommodate larger aircraft.

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