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Runway extension project an investment in the future

March 29, 2004

On Wednesday, April 14, the Washington County Commissioners will break ground on a $60.2 million project to extend a runway at the Hagerstown Regional Airport.

This is a project that should be built.

Without this construction, which would lengthen Runway 09-27 from 5,461 to 7,000 feet, commercial air traffic will eventually become impossible. That's because the Federal Aviation Administration will soon enforce a mandate to place a 1,000-foot-long safety area at the end of each runway.

Thousands who use the airport annually for flights to Pittsburgh and elsewhere would have to find other ways to travel, giving Washington County one fewer amenity to use to attract new companies - and to keep those that are already here.

This is also the airport that the White House sometimes uses to help the president get to Camp David. Should the president have to use a facility not up to federal standards?

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And then there are the jobs, about 800 of which are generated directly or indirectly by the airport. Those jobs pay $30 million in annual salaries, and $6 million in taxes, according to a consultant's estimate.

The bulk of the project - $47 million - is being paid for from the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Trust Fund, built up by taxes on passenger fares and airplane fuel, among other sources.

The county and the state will each pay a 5 percent share, but because FAA won't deliver all the funds at once, the county will incur charges for borrowing construction money, charges that could amount to $14 million.

Despite that, we believe it's a worthwhile investment. A 2002 research paper done for the FAA entitled, "The National Economic Impact of Civil Aviation," forecast continued growth in air travel - and continued delays for passengers if investments aren't made in new facilities.

There's no room for expansion at National and BWI airports and the cost of enlarging Dulles would be prohibitive. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be a demand for regional centers to deal with the overflow.

That's when Hagerstown will reap the benefit of today's investment, which the FAA's consultant says will enhance economic development, safety and security. Those are three good reasons to back this project, which we do.

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