Columbia airport receives grant for runway improvements

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Regional Airport is one step closer to beginning infrastructure improvements. The airport received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday.

The grant will fund 90 percent of the first project in the airport's master plan, and the City of Columbia will fund the other 10 percent. This first project will rehabilitate the intersection of the airport's two runways. Steve Sapp, Columbia Public Works spokesperson, said updating the intersection is one of the major projects the Federal Aviation Administration told the city it needs to complete at the airport back in 2009.

"For a number of years our master plan has identified that we have a  problem," Sapp said. "The FAA has told us we have a problem where those two runways intersect."

Sapp said the current intersection makes it more difficult for pilots to make turns on the runway. Sapp said a prime example of this was when American Airlines flight 3624 slid off the taxiway at Columbia Regional Airport on April 4. However, Sapp said the current runway and intersection aren't a safety concern.

"We want to stress there's nothing unsafe about conditions now," Sapp said. "Pilots are well-versed in how the runways and taxiways are laid out and we have a staffed air-control tower down there so everything is safe at this point, but we want to improve that."

Columbia's airport master plan includes multiple phases of renovations to the airport's runways. Sapp said that completing the intersection will pave the way for other projects that need to be completed.

"This is again, you know, one of those first steps people will be seeing over the next three to four years that will really just almost completely re-do the runways and taxiways at Columbia Regional Airport," Sapp said.

Columbia Public Works applied for several federal grants like this one that would cover 90 percent of the airport projects. Sapp said that grants like this one are awarded to applicants once federal funds become available.

"After we complete the paperwork and turn it in, it's basically a waiting game at that point," Sapp said.

While Sapp said he doesn't know exactly when the project will begin, he said Public Works hopes to begin by summer, and finish by the end of the year. He also said that most of the work will be completed at night, and the airport should remain fully functional during its completion.

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