Airport expansion moving forward

Earlier this month Airport Authority Chairman John Springthorpe received word that the authority has been awarded a $2.16 million grant to begin site preparation for an extended runway at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport. Additionally, work to reroute Holly Springs Church Road in order to accommodate the longer runway is nearing completion.

According to an email from Springthorpe to County Manager Chris Knopf, the 10 percent local match for the runway extension grant was included in the authority’s 2015-16 budget request. Surry County Commissioners approved the authority’s $299,615 budget request, though they chose not to immediately fund an amended request that included an additional $32,220 in legal fees that have been incurred as a result of litigation between the authority and a former board member.

Due to the runway extension, Holly Springs Church Road had to be rerouted. Also, the Airport Authority had to acquire property from local residents who once lived on what will now be an extended runway, and the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department was displaced as a result of the project.

In 2010 Springthorpe stated that the authority was in the first phase of the expansion, which Springthorpe said involved purchasing the property necessary for the $14 million expansion. At that point in time, Springthorpe said that the rerouting of Holly Springs Church Road would take place in 2011 and 2012.

However, the project met some resistance from residents who would be uprooted from their property by the expansion. In September of 2011 the Surry County Board of Commissioners authorized the use of Eminent Domain to procure property necessary for the airport expansion.

The Holly Springs Church Road relocation was sent to the bidding process in January of 2013. Later the contract for the road relocation was awarded to local Smith-Roe LLC. Once complete the road will be rerouted north of its prior location from Janice Drive to Cottage Drive.

According to Jody Phillips, who is the vice president of Smith-Roe, roadwork to reroute the road started around April of last year. Phillips said that a few permitting and weather-related issues have delayed the construction process to some extent. Additionally, Phillips said there were “utility conflicts” that caused some delay.

That stated, Phillips said that work on the road should be complete sometime around mid-July. According to Phillips the company will put the final asphalt surface on the road this week. Shortly after Independence Day Smith-Roe will begin the “tie-in” process, linking the new road to the old Holly Springs Church Road.

Phillips did warn residents who use the road that the “tie-ins” will create some “flagging operations” that may result in traffic congestion and a slower commute.

In addressing concerns about what some are calling a steep drop off the side of the new road, Phillips stated that guardrails had been placed there to prevent an automobile from falling several hundred feet off the side of the road. Phillips said that the guardrails would be sufficient to prevent such an accident. Additionally, Phillips said the posted speed limit on the new road will be 35 miles per hour.

Springthorpe said that he and the Airport Authority are looking forward to “having the improved Holly Springs Church Road open for use.” Springthorpe said that once the road is completed the airport will be able to begin the next phase of the expansion.

Springthorpe said that the new road will allow bulldozers and other machinery to access the north end of the runway and begin the grading process, adding that he hopes to have a contract for that phase of the operation in place by September.

Springthorpe said that the site preparation phase of the project is funded by the $2.16 million N.C. Department of Transportation grant. Springthorpe also highlighted the fact that the authority has been able to fund the project on the front end, rather than receiving grant funding after project completion.

“The (transportation) department has recognized the importance of this project,” said Springthorpe.

According to Springthorpe the authority also closed on the property owned by the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department on June 11, paying about $275,000 for what will become a new taxiway at the airport. The department will soon relocate to an airport-owned lot to the north of the current location.

The department, which plans to fund the construction of the new fire station mostly through grant funding, will lease the airport-owned parcel from the Airport Authority for $1 per year. Early cost estimates for the new station were around $700,000.

The $14 million runway expansion project will increase the length of the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport’s runway from 4,300 feet to 5,500 feet. According to Springthorpe and others the extension will allow the airport to serve larger planes, accommodating corporate clients.

Proponents of the project have stated that the longer runway will allow Surry County to better compete economically with communities that have larger airports.

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