Airport parallel taxiway project nears finish

As work rapidly winds down on a new parallel taxiway at Archuleta County’s Stevens Field, airport manager Bill McKown is looking ahead to 2009.

Since last week’s edition of The SUN hit newsstands, contractors finished paving the taxiway, which now connects the north end of the airport runway with a midfield apron adjacent to Fixed Base Operations (FBO).

As part of the same project, workers also finished a two-mile long interior road last week.

McKown expected painting and striping of the taxiway and north runway threshold to commence Wednesday. He said seeding and mulching of adjoining grounds would also begin then, with full completion, final inspection and acceptance by county officials and, perhaps, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), by the end of the week.

With that, McKown said the taxiway could be open to aircraft as early as tomorrow. Meanwhile, officials are planning a small grand opening ceremony — complete with ribbon-cutting — at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at the FBO.

Final numbers aren’t quite in yet, but county officials believe total taxiway costs will be somewhat below the $5.2 million budgeted. The FAA funded 90 percent of the project, while the Colorado Department of Transportation picked up 2.5 percent. The county managed to obtain a CDOT grant to cover its matching 2.5 percent.

With the interior road complete and the taxiway nearly finished, McKown is looking ahead to next year. On Aug. 8, he submitted a preliminary draft of the 2009 airport budget, and now awaits final county approval. The county’s general fund subsidizes the airport to the tune of about $580,000 a year, including debt service.

While budget cuts and adjustments are sure to come, securing sufficient funds for a new seal-coat on the runway and connecting taxiway aprons will be McKown’s first priority for the new year.

During a phone interview last week, the manager said the total cost of that project had not yet been determined, but suggested CDOT and the county would contribute about $7,800 each, with the FAA adding approximately $300,000.

McKown doubts the seal-coating work will cost that much and thinks half of the FAA funds could be applied toward the repair and resurfacing of the north ramp. The north ramp is a badly dilapidated tarmac just north of the midfield apron, where visiting light aircraft are parked and tied down.

Due to its current condition, pilots refuse to taxi onto the north ramp, lest a prop picks up loose gravel and causes damage to the aircraft. At present, Avjet, the fixed base operator, tows planes between the midfield apron and north ramp.

When asked how much north ramp repairs might cost, McKown considered recent increases in the costs of oil and asphalt, and estimated the overall figure at around $369,000. As another of his top priorities for 2009, he said engineering is underway, contractor bids will soon follow and repairs should hopefully be completed by the end of next summer.

A fuel farm upgrade is also near the top of McKown’s wish list for 2009. While the current system is fully functional and “provides good clean gas,” some tanks need new seals and general refurbishing, and certain galvanized plumbing should be replaced with stainless steel pipes to extend their economic life.

Though McKown failed to estimate the cost of revamping the fuel farm, he did consider it “an unfunded project that might cause a dip in the airport budget.” For now, he’s hoping he’ll have enough money in his operating budget to cover it, but seemed guardedly optimistic when asked if another federal or state grant might also be possible.

While McKown’s list of airport projects and improvements seldom shrinks, he implied that, after next year, significant activity will dwindle for a few years. Lesser tasks will continue, but small capital improvements, such as two more vehicles and increased hangar space leases, will become more the focus.

chuck@pagosasun.com