This story appeared in today's (20 Nov.) Sun-Sentinel. I can't remember how long the current runway is, but it's so frustrating when major projects like this are scaled back or compromised, and then 10 years later, everyone realizes that it should have been done right the first time....
Shorter second runway would work fine at Lauderdale airport, consultants say
By Scott Wyman
Posted November 20 2003
Plans to build a second major runway on the south side of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport could be scaled back and still address travel demands of the next 20 years, consultants told Broward County officials Wednesday.
The consultants concluded that travelers would not face any greater delay if the new runway is 8,000 feet long rather than the 9,000 feet that airport administrators have been seeking. They said the airport's needs could even be met with a 7,160-foot runway, but noted that the Federal Aviation Administration and pilots might balk if the plans were shortened that significantly.
An 8,000-foot runway would save environmentally sensitive wetlands to the east of the airport. A 7,160-foot runway would not have to bridge Federal Highway or force the relocation of electric transmission lines.
The 61-page report by Leigh Fisher Associates sets the stage for a final decision next month by county commissioners on the airport expansion plans. Commissioners hired the consultants to explore new options after facing fierce criticism that the new runway would harm nearby neighborhoods, parks and wetlands.
"My initial reaction is hallelujah," said Brenda Chalifour of Save our Shoreline. "This validates that there are alternatives that are less costly and that have less impact on the environment."
The Leigh Fisher report stood behind the need for airport expansion. According to the report, travel delays would top 29 minutes in 2020 and more flights would use the current diagonal runway as air traffic grows 45 percent to 430,000 flights a year.
The consultants offered two alternatives to building the runway on the south side -- a second northern runway or a redesigned diagonal runway. But they raised serious concerns that neither would be as efficient as a southern runway and that the diagonal runway might not be compatible with existing airspace corridors.
Commissioners said their focus will now be on deciding how long the south runway will be. They said that will be a balancing act between neighborhood and environmental issues and the needs of the traveling public.
"We all know we need another runway, and now we know there is no question that we can go with 8,000 feet with no impact," said Commissioner John Rodstrom, chairman of the county's airport expansion task force.
Commissioners Jim Scott and Ben Graber wanted to move ahead with the original plan of 9,000 feet this spring and remain reticent to change.
"This report confirms that the south runway is the best option for the airport expansion we desperately need," Scott said. "My initial thought is if we have to go over Federal Highway and all, why not stay with the original length?"
Leigh Fisher based its conclusion that a shorter second runway could accommodate the airport's growth on the mix of planes expected to fly in and out of Fort Lauderdale over the next 20 years.
More than 75 percent of commercial aircraft can take off from a 7,000-foot runway, and almost 90 percent can take off from an 8,000-foot runway. The consultants also said only a small number of aircraft require more than 7,000 feet to land in rainy weather.
Regardless of whether the south runway is 9,000 feet long or 7,160 feet long, Leigh Fisher estimated that the average delay in 2020 for flights would be seven to six minutes. The consultants considered three specific scenarios for a shorter runway:
a 7,985-foot runway. This would save the wetlands east of the Northeast 7th Avenue at the airport's border with Port Everglades. The project would cost at least $500 million, compared to $485 million for the current plan, and would lead to extreme noise over 205 acres of houses, as would the current plan.
a 7,500-foot runway. In addition to saving the wetlands, this would also allow the county to avoid the costly relocation of Florida Power & Light transmission lines. The project would cost at least $460 million, but would cause noise problems for an additional 65 acres of residential property.
a 7,160-foot runway. Under this design, Federal Highway could be relocated to the east so it would not have to be tunneled underneath the runway. Its cost would be at least $400 million and would affect the same number of homes as a 7,500-foot runway.
The Leigh Fisher consultants said that the county would have to buy and demolish the Hilton hotel west of the south runway under all of the options. That space would be needed to provide airplanes the necessary unobstructed length they need when landing to the east.
The shortest two options might require the county to back off promises it has made to restrict the use of the south runway. The restrictions include limits on nighttime flights, the direction of take-offs and landings and the size of planes using the runway.
The consultants said that the FAA would likely reconsider its willingness to support those restrictions, given the shortness of the runway. As the length is reduced, more pilots of commercial airliners will want to use the north runway for take-offs and would have more concern about the FPL lines at the end of the runway.
The different mix of aircraft using the shorter version of the south runway would mean less noise over John U. Lloyd State Park to the east of the airport, but more noise over the neighborhoods to the west.
The consultants generally favored elimination of the current diagonal runway as part of the project. The county has held that out as a possibility to ease some of the neighborhood concerns about the expansion.
Leigh Fisher suggested shortening the diagonal to 5,000 feet so it no longer crosses the south runway. The runway could be used by noncommercial aircraft .
Scott Wyman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4511
An unexamined life isn't worth living.