With the turning of a few shovelfuls of mud, construction on a $7 million air traffic control tower began Monday at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia.
Leaders from the metro-east, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airport gathered beneath a white tent in the middle of a soggy winter wheat field at the airport and broke ground for the new tower.
The 10-story tower will replace the aging, inadequate tower that has served the airport since 1973, lifting air traffic controllers 70 feet higher and giving them a broader view of the airfield. A 5,000-square-foot administrative support building will replace the mobile office trailer near the tower and will house not only administrative personnel, but also a backup generator and other support equipment.
"The control tower is the front door and welcome mat here at the airport," said airport director Daniel McDaniel. "Our controllers not only keep us safe, but they make our visitors welcome as well."
The project is funded with federal money.
"This is a very exciting day for the FAA, the airport and the community," said air traffic control tower manager Michael Penn. "It's a day to look forward and be excited about things to come. Many people have worked long and hard for years to get us to this day, and we still have work ahead of us to see this done to the end."
Construction of the new tower is expected to be complete in spring 2007. The airport, owned by Metro, generates more than $200 million for the region and is the busiest general aviation airport in Southern Illinois, according to FAA Regional Executive Manager Joyce Scott.
Operations at the airport have increased from 160,000 take-offs and landings in 1990 to more than 175,000 take-offs and landings in 2005, Scott said.
"The need for this airport keeps increasing, and if we are to meet today's challenges of increased safety and security, we need this new expanded facility," Scott said. "When complete, this tower will meet the increased need and will meet the air transportation needs in the region and the state."
Before securing money for the new tower, employees asked U.S. Rep. Jerry F. Costello to tour the current air traffic control tower. He spent time with them, learning about the drawbacks and inefficiencies that made replacing the tower necessary.
"The existing tower was to be a temporary tower when it was constructed," Costello said. "Let's turn this dirt and get moving."
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at email@example.com or 239-2667.
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