Fort Lauderdale Airport Plan Reviewed by County Commissioners

An early version of a roadmap for long-term growth at the increasingly busy Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport offers few answers about when expansion will occur and what it will cost.

Broward County commissioners discussed the first phase of a master plan Tuesday.

One key element is an extension of the south runway, although a required environmental study for the project won't be finished until next year. Extending the south runway would allow two large commercial landings at a time, compared with just one now, and increase capacity to about 17 million departing passengers compared with 10.4 million last year.

But that likely won't happen until at least 2011. The county also will study whether adding a north runway would allow for a third landing area.

In recent years, the airport earned the reputation of a place to catch a cheap flight -- and a long wait. One recent report cited it as having the worst delay record in the country, although delays have decreased lately. Fort Lauderdale was the fastest growing airport in the country between 1994 and 2004, as passenger traffic more than doubled.

The first phase of the master plan addresses issues such as adding gates and parking -- decisions that can't be made until the county knows for certain whether it will extend the south runway.

The public -- including civic groups opposed to certain expansion options -- was not invited to speak Tuesday. During the next few months, the county will collect input from residents, airlines and other stakeholders including the FAA.

County commissioners are expected to make a decision about the first phase of the master plan early next year.

Every expansion option would have a negative impact on someone. Dania Beach officials oppose the south runway expansion that could lead to a buyout of homes, while Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods hope the expansion could lead to shutting down the noisy diagonal runway.

Commissioners questioned whether the airlines -- at a time when some have filed for bankruptcy -- will help pay for the expansion.

''A lot of airlines are not in a position to pay anything,'' Commissioner John Rodstrom said in an interview. Airport officials have not had recent conversations with the airlines on the topic.

Commissioners voted to start a new master plan in December 2003 to replace the 1994 plan.

The first phase, being developed by consultants Leigh Fisher Associates, cost $900,000.

So far, the master plan doesn't include any firm price tags.

The proposed south runway expansion alone would cost about $850 million, but that figure doesn't include the cost of buying out homes.

Rodstrom, an expansion opponent, said costs continue to escalate and will be more than $1 billion. ''We've got to get a handle on this,'' he said of the costs.

While passengers get a good deal at the low-cost airport now, that will change after a massive expansion, he said.

The master plan doesn't answer questions for residents who live near the airport about what they will face in the future, said Brenda Chalifour, an activist opposing expansion.

''We have people who are experiencing negative impacts today,'' she said. ``Those need to be assessed and mitigated.''

Miami Herald

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