by John Kenyon
CORRIDOR – As he stepped to the lectern to address a crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking on a project to renovate The Eastern Iowa Airport’s main runway, interim airport director Don Swanson paused as a United Airlines jet took off.
“That’s a beautiful sound, the sound of money for the airport,” he said.
Increasingly, Corridor leaders are realizing that the sound of money for the airport is the sound of money for the entire region, and so the runway project that started earlier this month is seen as more than just an infrastructure upgrade for the facility.
“This has come a long way from a sleepy little airport to an economic development driver,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett at the June 4 groundbreaking.
The project is the reconstruction of runway 9/27, the airport’s 8,600-foot main runway. It was constructed in the 1940s, and save for an expansion in 1991 and 1992, it has not been renovated until now. This renovation, Mr. Swanson said, should meet the airport’s needs for the next 25 years.
The runway closed earlier this month, and will be completely rehabilitated, including rebuilding the intersection of the airport’s main and secondary runways.
Work on the runway project started in 2006. A taxiway has been transformed into a temporary runway that will be used during the summer’s construction. The cost of this phase of multi-year project is $21.8 million.
Tim Bradshaw, who will take over as airport director on June 28, said he sees the airport as a vital part of the local economic infrastructure.
“We are the pulse for the local economy,” he said from Louisville, Ky., where he is the wrapping up work as the chief operating officer for the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. “If the airport is growing, that is usually a good indicator of how the local economy is faring.”
The Eastern Iowa offers 35-plus flights per day and serves almost 1 million passengers annually. According to a 2008 Iowa aviation study, The Eastern Iowa Airport provides an annual economic impact of $224 million and generates 2,700 jobs.
“Airports fuel the economy by providing an international and strategic transportation link, allowing access to world markets overnight,” Mr. Bradshaw said. “In addition, passengers are able to connect to world destinations, helping our community retain and attract businesses, conventions and tourists.”
The runway renovation is the largest single-season construction project in the airport’s 63-year history. It caps an overall renovation of the airport that began 25 years ago. Those improvements have cost $133 million to date. That total will climb above $150 million by the time this project is completed this fall.
Eighty-six percent of the overall $47 million runway project cost will be paid for through Federal Aviation Administration grants. The other 14 percent will be paid through user fees.
Foth Co., with a local office in Cedar Rapids, is the airport’s engineering contractor. The general contractor is Hawkins Construction of Omaha. Several local companies are acting as subcontractors, with more than 200 construction workers employed on the project.