Federal aviation administrators will not allow Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to close a runway loathed by surrounding residents if the county pursues the most limited airport expansion plan under consideration.
County commissioners have wanted to close the crosswind runway, which is used during emergencies and at peak times, because of the noise created over nearby homes. Consultants for the Federal Aviation Administration told them Tuesday that air traffic controllers may want that runway to remain.
Proposals for the new runway range from 6,000 feet to 8,600 feet long. If the county goes with the shorter runway, air traffic controllers would still want the crosswind runway to ease congestion, because a new 6,000-foot runway would be too short for some planes. Also, pilots could demand to use the main runway for safety reasons, the consultants said.
Some county officials like the shorter runway option because it would cost less to build and might draw fewer objections from expansion critics.
Mayor Josephus Eggelletion said the desire to close the crosswind runway could boost the case for building a longer runway, originally favored by the county. He said the county must recognize that air travel to South Florida will grow.
"If you think people will stop flying, I think you are just wrong in your assumptions," Eggelletion told colleagues at Tuesday's commission meeting. "People will keep flying and will be flying more."
The county and the FAA are moving toward a decision in the next year on the long-debated expansion of the airport. The FAA has scheduled a public hearing for May 1 at the convention center, and then commissioners will debate which plan they would like to pursue.
On Tuesday, commissioners postponed until June 5 a hearing at which they are expected to vote on a plan. The hearing had been scheduled for May 8.
Officials have long focused on building a new major runway on the southern end of the airport to relieve congestion, but have faced questions on whether it is needed and how long it should be if built. Most of the options on the south side call for a runway between 8,000 and 8,600 feet long that would span Federal Highway.
Consultants told the commission that construction could begin in 2010 with the runway opening in late 2012. The cost of building a southern runway would run between $523 million and $707 million before inflation is considered.
Commissioners Suzanne Gunzburger and John Rodstrom, who represent surrounding neighborhoods, questioned the FAA consultant's report. They said traffic might not increase as projected if the county refused to build more gates at the airport.
"Maybe this is the opposite of Field of Dreams, and if we don't build it, they won't come," Gunzburger said.
The FAA is presenting its draft report on the expansion at community meetings this week. Tonight's briefing is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the South Regional Library, 7300 Pines Blvd. Another will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Lauderdale Branch Library Auditorium, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd.
Scott Wyman can be reached at or 954-356-4511.
IN OTHER ACTION
The County Commission:
Signed agreements with four firms to pick up handicapped residents as part of the area's paratransit program. The contracts total $11.4 million a year and went to AAA Wheelchair Wagon Service, the Areawide Council on Aging, Lucanus Development Center and Medex Transport.
Agreed to pay $3 million toward buying property needed for the regional park being built in Lauderhill. The city will pay an additional $400,000 to settle a court fight to seize the land from Prempart Holdings and Premier Motor Sales.
Agreed to send Mayor Josephus Eggelletion on economic development trips to Chile and Mexico. Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin will join him on the trip to Mexico.
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