All Illinois Airport Construction to Halt July 1

June 29, 2016

All airport construction projects in the state of Illinois are about to grind to a halt this week due to political infighting at the state capitol that will now cut off all federal funding.

June 30, will mark one year without a budget in the state, which has caused major financial challenges for state institutions due to a lack of funding. If no budget agreement is put in place by July 1, airport managers across the state have learned it means all projects — planned or in progress — will need to halt as the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will no longer be able to allot funds sent to the state by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Any federal funds designated for airport improvements in Illinois outside of the O’Hare modernization project in Chicago must pass through IDOT,” the agency stated in a written statement when contacted by Airport Business. “Without a budget, we do not have the legal authority to pass along those funds starting July 1."

Gene Olson, director of airports for the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria, said the big project at General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) will be impacted by hasn’t even started yet, but will be delayed by at least a year if there’s no funding by July 1.

Peoria needs to replace apron pavement at its new terminal building from gate 5 to the east to the FBO area. The $4.5 million project is 90 percent federally funded with the state and local entities kicking in 5 percent each in funding.

Due to the budget impasse, Olson said the airport authority offered to pick up the state’s 5 percent match, but discovered it still wouldn’t allow the project to proceed because Illinois has a channeling act.

“The FAA writes a check to the state of Illinois and IDOT passes on those funds to the local sponsors,” he said. “Because there’s no budgetary authority by IDOT to disperse those funds, they took the position they can’t even let the federally funded projects continue.”

Olson said Peoria would need to start the project by July 17, in order to complete work before the winter season hits, but because of the developments that are occurring, they decided if there’s no budget agreement or interim budget in place by July 1, the project will be delayed.

In order to proceed, Delta Air Lines needs to be move to a different terminal, then American Airlines will be moved to the Delta gates once that portion is completed, then Allegiant Airlines would be moved to the American gates until the final pieces of apron are replaced. Due to all the work the airlines must do in coordination for the repairs, Olson said they would need to know as soon as possible it would proceed.

“We have been able distribute the funds over the last fiscal year because a capital budget was passed and signed by the governor a year ago, keeping IDOT’s appropriation authority in place," IDOT stated. "But without passage of the stopgap budget solution proposed by the governor, this and similar projects must be suspended starting Friday.”

Jamie Abbott, executive director of Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, Ill., said the airport is at the tail end of a $450,000 AIP-funded apron repair project, which they expect to finish by this weekend.

However, the airport is in week three of a 12-week project of rehabbing runway 16-34, which has work done on weekends.

“We have a runway project right now that’s about a quarter of the way complete,” he said. “That would hurt us if it’s a long-term closure.

Abbott said the airport held a meeting with the contractor involved with the project June 29 and if the closure appears short-term, the will leave equipment at the site. If it’s a long-term closure, then different challenges may arise.

“It’s really a scheduling issue,” Abbott said. “We publish a construction schedule for our tenants and FBOs and they really kind of live their lives around that runway closure, so any disruption to that schedule we’ve published and it’s really a hardship to them.”

Tom Cleveland, airport manager for the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport and president of the Illinois Public Airport Association (IPAA), said they knew the state was having issues due to the budget battle, but the loss of all federal funds for airports came as a surprise.

“To have all projects, all transportation projects not just airports in Illinois just stop, it’s unacceptable, it’s terrible” he said. “We’re hoping that a stopgap measure will come out or something to allow the funding of projects to continue and we’re hoping to have it happen quickly.

“It’s just not right. A lot of jobs will be lost”

While a delayed project won’t mean an impact on service at Peoria, Olson said it will impact the authority’s maintenance funds, which are generated locally.

“We don’t have a choice because this kind of pavement, anything an aircraft rolls over has to meet Part 139 standards,” he said. “Your choice is to fix it or close it and obviously we can’t close it.”

Cleveland said his airport doesn’t have any large projects impacted by the budget impasse, but DeKalb is doing a hazardous wildlife assessment, which in order to get it going, the airport had to come to an agreement two months ago to cover the state’s portion of the project and seek reimbursement at a later date.

Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion, Ill., is in the midst of building a new $15 million terminal, which is about three months from completion. Airport Director Doug Kimmel said the project was put on hold June 24 due to the delay so the airport could get caught up on billing in the event of a prolonged shutdown.

“This is an entirely federally funded project as far as the grant money is concerned,” he said. “The local share is met by the airport and although there’s no state money involved whatsoever…”

Kimmel said the airport planned to have stuff moved into the new terminal by September with plans for a formal dedication on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. However, even though it has been five days since construction halted, it will take longer than a week to get the project going again as it caused disruptions in the material supply chain and workers have since been set to other jobs.

Abbott said his airport is exploring the costs of grooving the new portion of runway in the event of a long-term closure and winterizing the section. 

“The biggest thing we can do is communicate with our tenants and FBOs about what’s going on and how far back this is going to push the project,” he said. 

According to the FAA Office of Airports, $156 million was allocated to the state of Illinois by the federal entity in FY2015. IDOT was unable to confirm the exact value of the projects being put on hold.

Olson said his worries also extend past the project itself as it could harm funding for years to come.

“Since the state of Illinois stands between us and the federal government in order to execute a fully funded project, what’s going to happen next year,” he said. “This $4.5 million, about $2.5 million is entitlement funds and the other $2 million are discretionary funds, so next year when the FAA is looking for airports to award discretionary funding, what are they going to think of the airports in Illinois? They might look at us as unreliable sponsors and it’s not because of us.”

This story will be updated as more details become available.