FAA Clears Way for New Terminal Building at Trenton-Mercer Airport, County Announces

March 23, 2022

The Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) has issued a report that allows Mercer County to move forward with building a new passenger terminal at Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing, the county announced.

A new terminal would be the latest, and largest, of several improvements and expansions for the Mercer County-owned airport under the administration of County Executive Brian J. Hughes, who hailed the latest report as “great news” for the airport and its travellers.

Three groups oppose expansion and more air traffic at the airport, citing environmental and noise pollution concerns, and one, Trenton Threatened Skies, said Tuesday it was, “disappointed and deeply concerned” at the FAA report.

The report, a Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision, known in government airport lingo as a FONSI/ROD, addresses environmental and other concerns in the county-commissioned Environmental Assessment (EA) of their new terminal plans.

The 35-page report concludes, “The FAA has determined that environmental and other relevant concerns presented by interested agencies and the general public have been addressed in the EA. The FAA believes that...there are no outstanding environmental issues within FAA’s jurisdiction to be studied.”

It is posted on the Mercer County website, here.

Mercer County’s plans are to build the new passenger terminal adjacent to the current, 25,000-square foot building - 33,000 square feet with leased space. The current building has two main gates, subdivided into four with parking for four commercial airliners.

The current facility, despite a $21-million renovation completed in 2013 after main carrier Frontier Airlines started using the airport, is already antiquated and unable to keep up with growing air travel and the logistics that come with more fare-paying passengers, county officials have said.

The new terminal would be 125,000 square feet, with four modern gates, 10 ticket counters and better overall airport functions, from baggage screening and claims, to bathrooms and concession areas and new TSA screening areas, the county says. Also in the plans is a new airport fire department building.

The new terminal would better accommodate current levels and forecasts of airline passengers to the year 2035, the county plans say.

“The existing terminal at Trenton-Mercer Airport is about one-third the size it should be for the number of travelers currently using it,” Hughes said in a statement. “As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, we expect an increasing demand for leisure travel, and nationwide and at Trenton- Mercer, we are seeing airlines adding new flights and reviving old ones.”

A Mercer County spokesperson said officials hope to have shovels in the ground in mid 2023 and complete the terminal in mid 2025, and said the project would not breach the barriers of the airport’s current, 1,300-acre footprint in Ewing.

Passenger traffic at the airport was on the rise before the coronavirus pandemic, from 363,626 in 2017 to 404,349 in 2018 and 462,173 in 2019, FAA statistics show, before falling to 129,536 in 2020. Last year’s numbers are not yet available.

The county does not yet have a specific price tag for the project, but the FAA report uses estimates of $109 to $121 million depending on exactly how the terminal is constructed.

Critics say the new terminal and associated construction is likely to come with a $200 million price tag. Their main concern, though, is the environment, which they say the county and federal government is ignoring.

“The anticipated huge increase in flight operations will have a major detrimental impact on the environment and both the FAA and the airport have refused to acknowledge, investigate, and mitigate these consequences,” said Judy Hoechner of Trenton Threatened Skies.

She called the FONSI/ROD report, “lipstick on a pig and not truly addressing the public’s concerns.”

Trenton Threatened Skies - which works with BRRAM, Bucks Residents For Responsible Airport Management, in lower Bucks County, Pennsylvania - also takes issue with the language the county uses in its proposals.

“We are disappointed and deeply concerned that the FAA is actively supporting the airport’s false narrative that this is not a major expansion of the airport’s capacity. By deceitfully calling this five times larger terminal a ‘replacement and modernization’, the airport is not admitting their true intentions of expansion and therefore skirting the proper environmental reviews,” Hoechner said.

The FONSI/ROD report is appealable through the federal court system, within 60 days, and Hoechner said the group was “keeping their options open” about future legal challenges.

Richard Preston, of Lower Makefield Township’s Trenton Mercer Airport Review Panel, said the FAA report was a “rubber stamp” and the group would like to see an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the project. (The county says an EA is just as technical.)

“The FAA openly promotes a dishonest methodology that supports segmenting a large number of connected projects into smaller ones, each of which can be approved independently without considering them together as a whole,” he said.

“They take this path specifically to avoid carrying out an environmental impact statement which is what is required for a project of this size. It is unconscionable that they do not even consider the effect of increased aircraft emissions and noise in the analysis,” he added.

All Trenton-Mercer Airport documents, studies and reports are on a Mercer County website, here, as well as a county terminal project webpage here.

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Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected].

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