EDITORIAL: 650 feet forward

The Tupelo Airport Authority’s reach exceeded its grasp on a project to lengthen the airport’s runway, but what the board can hold on to is still a major improvement.
It approved a 650-foot extension of the runway to the north earlier this week after learning that a hoped-for 1,000-foot lengthening would be too expensive.
The Federal Aviation Administration will finance 95 percent of the project, and in its judgment the need didn’t justify the expenditure for the longer extension. The 1,000-foot project would have cost $12.5 million; the 650-foot extension will come in at $8,147,167, according to the airport’s engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer.
The board had hoped to be able to add a 350-foot lengthening of the runway to the south in addition to the northern extension, for a total of 1,000 feet.
Still, the project will increase the runway from 6,500 to 7,150 feet, which will accommodate regional jets, most business jets and short-haul cargo flights. Board chairman Bo Gibens said a 7,500-foot runway is still the ultimate goal, but it will have to wait a while.
The long-discussed project created quite a stir in nearby west Tupelo neighborhoods when it initially would have shut off traffic on West Jackson Street Extended, a primary route used by residents in the area. The street lies to the north of the runway, but the 650-foot expansion won’t affect it.
The southern extension was devised as a means of avoiding closing off the major traffic artery after other options, including a tunnel under the runway, were considered.
Airport officials’ accommodation of those residents’ concerns in their project planning represented a good-faith effort to balance competing interests.
Ideally, Tupelo’s airport would be located on the city’s outermost edges rather than in a growing residential area. But growth has moved in the airport’s direction, and relocation would be prohibitively expensive.
In the meantime, the airport is struggling to attract and retain business. There’s little doubt that its continued viability is a key element in Tupelo and the region’s future economic development efforts. The airport must be able to take reasonable steps to ensure that viability over the long term.
The additional runway expansion to the south that had been hoped for may still be possible in the future. It would involve relocation of a city fire station but no private businesses or residences.
For now, the airport and its users can look forward to a sure thing, if not yet the ultimate goal.

NEMS Daily Journal