Rowan turns to top politicians for help with runway extension

Published 12:05 am Saturday, February 6, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

With help from high-level elected officials, Rowan County leaders hope to secure funding for a runway extension at the airport.

Rowan County Commissioners in January passed a resolution that asked North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators, Gov. Pat McCrory and State Board of Transportation Member Jake Alexander for help securing funding for the long-awaited, 500-foot extension. A major reason it’s taken so long, Rowan County leaders say, is the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to move the Rowan County Airport from the Atlanta to Memphis division. With the switch, Rowan County had to resubmit previously completed surveys and paperwork.

During the Airport Board’s Friday meeting, representatives from engineering firm Talbert, Bright and Ellington said the project still requires more paperwork to pass through government agencies, including the Department of Transportation and FAA, before funding can be awarded. It appears the office of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has interest in trying to help expedite the process. Burr’s office has asked what work has already been done for the airport extension, according to engineer Carl Ellington.

“As part of trying to help the county, they’ve asked a question about the status of it — where’s the review, where’s FAA and where’s the state on this,” Ellington said during Friday’s meeting.

Ellington said he wasn’t sure whether a land survey that’s been submitted to the state would halt other parts of the runway extension process.

Commissioners Craig Pierce during Friday’s meeting said he asked commissioners to consider the resolution following a conversation with a member of McCrory’s staff.

“When I was speaking with the governor’s liaison, he said ‘this is the time of year you want to get your stuff in there because, if there’s any money left, they’re going to spend it. If your project is being held up and there’s some money, they might not award you everything you want, but they might award you the lion’s share of it,'” Pierce recalled. “What’s going on right now is there’s urgency politically because some of these people are up for re-election. They want to do things that look good and show an interest in local government.”

Pierce said Rowan garnered interest from Burr’s office because of the re-election. The federal funding cycle is also coming to an end, Pierce said.

Airport Board Chairman Addison Davis followed the comments by thanking Pierce for trying to get high-level politicians to expedite the runway’s extension.

“That is the kind of things that we need right now — the political effort to make it happen,” Davis said.

If Rowan County receives federal funding for the extension — around $24 million — Ellington said the project could be combined with another to crown and groove the runway. A crown and groove overlay would improve the runway’s surface. It, too, has dragged on for multiple years without funding. He described a recent landing as an example of how the crown and groove would improve Rowan’s runway.

“I stood on the brakes and there was absolutely nothing for a count of one, two, three and then the airplane settled down because of the amount of water sitting on the runway,” Greene said. It’s a sickening feeling to be in an airplane, doing 125 knots, and nothing happens — no deceleration, nothing happens … A crown and groove is instantaneous.”

Ellington said the crown and groove overlay isn’t necessarily tied to the runway extension. Both projects could also be awarded funding separately, he said.

Two significant projects already have the necessary funding to proceed, Ellington said. The first is a second, corporate hangar. The second is rehabilitating the runway ramp near sets of T-hangars and adding to the ramp where the corporate hangar is planned.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.