City's airport to undergo improvements

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

July 11, 2008 - Sulphur Springs Municipal Airport is slated to begin a two-phase improvement project beginning later this year, thanks to a $3 million Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Facilities Grant.

Texas Transportation Commission approved the TxDoT's recommendation from Texas Aviation Association Advisory Committee that Sulphur Springs receive a portion of the $60 million in funding allocated to the TxDoT Aviation Facilities Grant Program for preservation and improvements in general aviation systems. The funding is specifically designated for planning, constructing and maintaining community airports across the state, according to TxDoT information.

"We were approved at the lower level for the funds a while ago, but it's been held up in Congress. The FAA was negotiating. They recently freed up the funds," according to Joey Baker, airport manager.

While grant approval has been in process for a number of years, the cost of construction has significantly increased. Thus, the project has been broken down into two phases instead of one big project. Application and tentative approval have been granted by TxDoT for additional funding, but it has yet to be approved at the higher levels. The additional grant would fund the second phase of the project.

Contracts for the $3 million project are expected to be awarded this summer, which depending on the weather should see some actual construction work beginning this fall, according to Baker and TxDoT reports.

"This project doesn't have a huge scope," Baker said. "With construction costs, like everything else, up these days $3 million doesn't go as long as it used to."

The first phase of the project will see improvements to taxiways and main runways. Drainage repairs will also be made along the taxiways to improve subsurface drainage, which doesn't flood runways but does flood quite a bit of the rest of the property.

Additional lighting and resurfacing of ramps was in the original plan, but likely will be cut in order to see the project come in under budget, according to Baker.

Phase 2 is expected to cost about $4 million more to have the "entire runway resurfaced." Baker is hoping concrete can be put down instead of asphalt paving. He said the asphalt runways last saw significant improvements in 1988, and improvements have been needed for at least five years. Asphalt is expected to last 12 to 15 years with normal use, while concrete has a 30-year life span.

Additional air traffic and larger sizes of planes at the airport are the catalysts for seeking grants to make the improvements. There are 60 aircraft based at Sulphur Springs airport, including five corporations, plus Legend Aircraft, makers of the Piper Cub replica. At least six other corporations use the airport as a temporal base routinely. The jets landed are larger than the aircraft using the runways 20 years ago. Concrete would better withstand the additional weight and usage.

Baker did note that while repairs are needed, the condition of the runways are not so bad crashes or aircraft safety are current issues. But if they are left without repair for an extended length of time, it could present a problem. The improvement projects are safety measure against such concerns, Baker explained.

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