Port of Pasco proceeds with Tri-Cities Airport runway extension plan

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 5, 2012 

The Port of Pasco is moving forward with plans to extend a runway at the Tri-Cities Airport.

Beginning negotiations to buy land for a future extension is part of the port's "once in a generation expansion" efforts for an airport that has seen annual boardings grow by 100,000 in the last four years.

Port commissioners approved initiating negotiations to buy about 34 acres of land Tuesday, said Jim Toomey, the port's executive director.

Because the port hopes to be reimbursed by the Federal Aviation Administration in the future when the runway is needed, the port is following a federal process that includes surveying and appraising properties before beginning formal negotiations with the landowner, he said.

The property was appraised at almost $1.6 million.

Toomey said the port also hopes to discuss building height restrictions on some adjacent property.

The port wants to be sure that people don't buy property without realizing it is near the flight path and runway.

The runway known as runway 30 and runway 12 is currently 7,800 feet. Toomey said the port is considering a 1,000- to a 1,800-foot extension.

That would allow 757s to land at the airport, he said. Those planes are larger and heavier than those that currently fly in and out of the Tri-Cities Airport.

Airlines are trying to increase fuel efficiency, Toomey said. Allegiant Air is flying 757s directly out of the Spokane and Boise airports to the Hawaiian Islands.

The runway is the only one the port can expand. Toomey said it could be years before the port actually needs to expand it.

If commissioners don't consider preserving the option to expand the runway now, port Commissioner Ron Reimann said future commissioners in 10 to 15 years are going to be asking why.

The Tri-Cities likely will continue to grow, said Reimann, who has lived in the area since 1973.

While the growth may not be as rapid as what has occurred recently, some growth is still expected, he said.

And even during the recession, the airport has seen a growth of 3 percent to 4 percent in boardings, Reimann said.

A runway extension is a major part of the proposed airport expansion, which includes a remodeled terminal, Toomey said.

The port is in the design phase for that terminal, which could be double the current size.

Current estimates put the terminal remodel at $26 million to $32 million, Toomey said. The project is still in the conceptual design phase.

As part of the remodel, the bathrooms, elevators and stairwell will be relocated to the front of the terminal building.

That will open up the floor of the terminal to accommodate up to five screening lines.

The front of the building would move back, allowing for three lanes of traffic through the drop-off area.

The ticket counters will be moved back, and the building will be expanded behind the ticket counters for baggage check and security screening, Toomey said.

Behind the screening, there will be space for a restaurant, with boarding gates to the left and right, he said.

The terminal could have up to five gates, and with easy modifications, up to seven.

Reimann said it's important to have a facility people can be comfortable in while waiting for incoming visitors or to board a plane.

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