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Runway project takes off

July 17, 2003

The Hagerstown Regional Airport's runway extension project took a giant step forward last week, when U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, announced a $47 million federal grant to fund it. Now county officials must move the work forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.

According to Bartlett's office, the Federal Aviation Administration grant will allow the county to lengthen one runway from 5,400 to 7,000 feet. The project will bridge U.S. 11 and allow the airport to comply with new FAA safety regulations. It will also cover the third phase of the installation of a new instrument landing system.

All work should be completed by 2007, using the FAA grant, $11 million in state funding and up to $8 million in local funding.

Though the local share is only $2.6 million, or about 5 percent of the project's cost, the FAA will repay the county only after the work is done, with payments coming over a 10-year period.

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That will require the county to take out a "bridge loan" until repayment occurs, since its cash reserves aren't large enough to cover those costs.

However, the FAA has agreed that if a given year's payment is $5 million, it will deliver cash 30 days prior to a large expenditure, like, for example, an excavation contractor's bill for $750,000.

The Herald-Mail has endorsed the project, despite its higher-than-expected cost, because without it, the airport could lose the passenger service that now runs between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh.

Without this project, the airport might not be able to accommodate regional jets, which are expected to carry more passengers as large metropolitan airports become more and more crowded.

Without this project, the county might lose some of the dozen or so companies that provide jobs at the airport, servicing and refurbishing aircraft, among other things.

Now that the financing is secure, it's up to county officials to manage this project in a way that contains costs and gets it done on time. The runway extension is an investment in the future and county officials must manage it so that it pays dividends in the form of new business and new jobs.

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