Funding problems stall runway extension

Feds to help pay for roadwork, but not for longer tarmac
March 11, 2014

Sussex County's is halfway to its goal of extending the county airport's main runway 1,000 feet to 6,000 feet. But getting the second half of the project completed may take longer than expected and will definitely cost more than anticipated.

Federal funding paid for 90 percent of the cost for the first phase of extending the runway, the initial 500 feet. Funding for the second 500-foot extension remains unresolved.

The runway project – which requires realigning Park Avenue, a truck bypass that goes around the airport – has a price tag of more than $34 million. And there is no way runway work can be done without the road work. Phase 1 cost $5.8 million.

“The runway would be right in the middle of Park Avenue,” said Airport Manager Jim Hickin.


Runway expansion and improvements: Sussex County, $7.8 million; state, $2.6 million; *federal, $1.4 million. Total = $11.8 million.

Park Avenue realignment and improvement: State, $4.6 million; federal, $18.1 million. Total = $22.7 million.

* Federal funds are not proposed for land acquisition or runway extension but could cover lighting and markings.

During council's Feb. 25 meeting, Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson showed how cost sharing for the project could be dispersed among the federal and state governments and Sussex County.

Lawson said without Federal Aviation Administration funding for runway extension work, the county's share of runway work would total nearly $8 million of $11.8 million needed for the next 500 feet.

Costs for roadwork are about $22.7 million, but that will be paid for by the state at $4.6 million and the federal government, which will pay $18.1 million. The county has already committed more than $3.8 million for land acquisition for Phase 2.

Hickin said the Park Avenue project is on the Delaware Department of Transportation's six-year capital plan, but there is no funding for construction. DelDOT has also proposed to extend Park Avenue improvements out to Route 113, driving up the cost by more than $5 million.

The county was dealt a blow when the FAA officials decided there are not enough larger jets using the airport to justify a 6,000-foot runway, so they turned down a request for 90 percent funding for Phase 2 of the extension project. The FAA paid $5.3 million of the $5.8 million cost for Phase 1 of the recently completed initial 500-foot extension project.

The airport has 35,000 flights each year. “With a charter service operating, we did have the numbers at one time,” Hickin said.

To Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, the fate of state and federal funding for roadwork is not secure either. He said this project could be held hostage to promote the Markell Administration's proposed 10-cent gasoline tax increase.

Phillips said the county should start setting funds aside in a capital reserve fund for the project, but his comment received no reply from other council members.

For now, the second runway extension is in limbo. “At this time, there is no decision or path forward by council,” Lawson said. “I am taking the position we may discuss the project if any member of council wants to as we prepare the fiscal year 2015 budget. Otherwise, we will wait and see how the discussions and decisions at the state level play out.”