LR airport preparing to expand

July 10, 2007

For more than two years, Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field, has been buying up and demolishing homes and other structures that once constituted a small neighborhood on a swath of land north of the airport.

Now, the airport is set to remake the area in its image.

The land is undergoing a "transformation," said Judy Ross, the airport's director of properties, planning and development.

The demolition is making way for an extension of the airport's general aviation runway - a $17 million project, officials estimate. The 1,100-foot extension will stretch the runway to more than 6,000 feet, long enough to accommodate the bigger business jets now based at the state's largest airport. They include the ones completed at the large Dassault Falcon Jet and Hawker Beechcraft Corp. facilities.

Airport officials hope the extension will keep those jets off the airport's two main commercial runways.

But much remains to be done before the extension begins.

Relocating a portion of East Sixth Street, now in the path of the extension, will be tackled first. Work on moving the section of the street between Townsend and Corning avenues will begin within a month, Ross said.

Of the 177 parcels of property the airport acquired for the project, only four have yet to be transferred to airport ownership, and the contractor will work around those four parcels, Ross said. The parcels were acquired under two federal airport aid grants totaling $3.6 million.

The last person to be relocated, Mary Esau, moved to a home in North Little Rock around April, said Jim Gladwin, property manager for the project, which is being handled by O.R. Colan Associates, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company specializing in land acquisition for airports and other public agencies.

Esau, who has an unlisted telephone number and couldn't be contacted last week, now lives about seven miles from her old house near Ninth Street and Corning.

Only about 70 of the parcels had occupied structures and, of those, 70 percent were owneroccupied, Gladwin said.

"It's not like a whole community was dissolved," Gladwin said.

Under the grants, the homeowners were bought out and moved to other houses in central Arkansas. The airport paid the owners for their homes and the difference between the price paid for new ones.

Some people didn't want to move from a house, however modest, that their families called home for several generations, Gladwin said, while other families couldn't wait to move. The latter outnumbered the former by a ratio Gladwin estimated to be 3-to-1.

Though the houses around the Sixth Street relocation project are gone, the street still is needed to help move traffic.

"We do need it for an access point to the north side of the airport," Ross said. "Sixth Street [also] is the only viable access from the west side." Several companies, including Dassault, can be accessed through Sixth.

"We also have some people living in that area that we needed to accommodate as well," Ross said.

Relocating the street likely will take until March. By then, a contractor should be in place to start work on the airfield. Besides extending the runway, the project includes expanding the parallel taxiways and working on the runway's lighting and navigation system. A portion of Harrington Avenue also will become part of the airport's perimeter road.

The general aviation runway, known formally as Runway 18-36, will undergo periodic closures of up to a couple of months as the work moves closer to airport activities, Ross said.

When the runway is closed - likely some time in 2008 - officials hope to have a $1.8 million grant in place to install a high-intensity lighting system on the taxiways to allow aircraft to move in low-visibility conditions without a "follow me" vehicle.

"We will try to take maximum advantage of the closure," Ross said.

The runway extension project should be completed by 2010.

This article was published 07/09/2007

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