FAA backs $6.6M Pittsfield Municipal Airport runway project

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PITTSFIELD — Smooth move, Elaine L. Chao.

This time next year, aircraft landing in Pittsfield will touch down on new runways, erasing the city airport's dubious distinction of having some of the worst pavement in New England.

Chao, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, announced Tuesday she's steering $6.6 million in Federal Aviation Administration money to a runway and taxiway project at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.

Airport Manager Gloria Bouillon got the word Tuesday. She said the grant will improve safety and reduce the expense of continually patching cracks.

"The only option is a major reconstruction," she said. "It's beyond the point of any further maintenance."

The city applied for the FAA money this spring and identified J.H. Maxymillian of Pittsfield as the low bidder on the project.

After the city formally accepts the grant, the money will be used to commission work starting in April.

The work will force the airport to close or restrict landings for parts of the spring and summer. It comes on the heels of a decade-long expansion that ended in 2015 and cost more than $20 million.

The FAA grant will cover 90 percent of the new work, with the remainder split by the city and the state DOT. Their shares will be $300,000 each.

Bouillon said the grant will allow the airport to shed a dismal "pavement condition index" that rated it in the 40s when an acceptable number is 75. Patching was no longer able to improve the rating. Staff had to comb loose asphalt from runways to prevent that material from being sucked into aircraft engines, Bouillon said.

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By rebuilding both runways, the city will stop having to throw taxpayer money after short-term paving repairs, she said.

"It's going to save us having to do that maintenance every year," Bouillon said.

The full project cost is pegged at $6,994,710.41, Bouillon said. She had expected a federal contribution of $6,295,239. The fact that the FAA grant came in higher means the project will be able to include LED lighting improvements as well.

The pavement on the main 5,791-foot runway, known as 8-26, is at least 25 years old. The surface of the smaller 3,498-foot runway, dubbed 14-32, was installed more than three decades ago.

Along with rebuilding runways to a depth of nearly a foot, the project will raise the level on parts of the smaller runway as much as two and a half feet. That work is needed to fix a line-of-sight problem that leaves pilots unable to see as far down the strip as the FAA requires.

The project will force the main runway to close for 85 calendar days, starting roughly May 1.

A second phase to rebuild the outer edges of the smaller runway is scheduled to take 55 days. During that work, the main runway could be used.

News of the award comes as the airport moves to renew its lease with Lyon Aviation, the privately owned fixed-base operator.

Bouillon is also overseeing efforts to expand solar energy generation on the airport's grounds and expects to start work soon on a new master plan. The last plan was approved in 2001.

"That's almost invalid at this point," she said of the document. "We have a lot of moving parts here."

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass


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