Commissioners told consultants Tuesday to fine-tune the new runway alternative so it's long enough to handle most of the commercial planes using the airport, and so they could press ahead with decommissioning the emergency, diagonal runway.
The new alternative would be built just north of the southern runway. In December 2003, the commission opted for a plan to extend the southern runway to 8,600 feet, backing away from a decade-long plan for an even longer runway. At the same time, the commissioners want to talk to Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties about jointly operating the area's three airports to better manage growth at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood.
The runway project has been long stalled because of complaints from environmentalists and neighborhood activists, but the county will likely decide in late summer or early fall what option it favors and then seek federal approval to begin construction.
While planning and debate so far focused on lengthening the south runway to handle commercial traffic, the new idea emerged as part of a study that commissioners ordered with their December 2003 decision.
The consultants suggested a 6,001-foot runway could be built just to the north of the south runway, saving the county the cost of bridging Federal Highway and buying a nearby hotel and neighboring Melaleuca Gardens.
A majority of commissioners depicted that option as preferable to lengthening the southern runway, but also said they wanted it refined.
At 6,001 feet, only commuter-size jets and propeller planes could use it and the diagonal runway would have to remain open. Commissioners suggested lengthening it to about 7,800 feet by relocating Federal Highway, thus allowing most of the commercial jets that use the airport to land and take off from it. That could allow the diagonal runway to be phased out as hoped.
Mayor Ben Graber and Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion urged caution, though. They want to ensure the airport keeps pace with growth without longer delays. Traffic is expected to increase 60 percent by 2020.
"We can't stop the world and get off," Graber said. "We can't just build a border and stop people from coming here."
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