FAA Chief, Local Officials Talk Lewis University Airport Projects
Lipinski: Planned improvements will stimulate economic growth throughout the region.
Local officials say major upgrades at the Lewis University Airport could be the key to attracting Fortune 500 corporations to Romeoville and the surrounding areas. But funding for the more than $10 million in projects planned for the airport hinges on whether lawmakers are able to come to an agreement for a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration’s operating authority.
Congressman Dan Lipinski, whose third district includes Romeoville under a new legislative map, invited FAA administrator Christa Fornarotto to the airport Thursday to outline some of the projects that could be in line for FAA airport improvement funding if the reauthorization were to happen.
“Lewis University Airport can be the executive airport for the Chicago region,” Lipinski said, noting that its location near three major highways makes it attractive to major corporations. “We’re just looking at doing more to make this a better asset, a real jewel for the region.”
The first priority for the airport, owned and operated by the Joliet Regional Port District, is the $4.8 million reconstruction of the aging east-west runway to allow it to accommodate heavier, larger corporate jets.
“We’re talking about the airport’s original runway, which was constructed in the 1960s,” Lewis University Airport engineer Ron Hudson said. Though the runway was revamped in 1990, it isn’t suitable for the larger planes that now frequent the airport.
“It was designed for [single-engine] Cessnas,” Hudson said. Lewis University Airport’s north-south runway, completed in 2009, is able to accommodate the larger aircraft.
During a tour of the airport, Director of Aviation Chris Lawson pointed out increasingly visible cracks along the oldest runway.
“It’s really noticeable when you get the freeze and the thaw,” he said. “It’s pretty bad. I would say within the next year or two, we’ll have significant issues.”
Without FAA funding for the project, “Then we’re filling potholes,” Lawson told reporters Thursday.
Eventually, airport officials also hope to build an air traffic control tower — another amenity that could entice major companies to bring their business to Will County. The tower would come with a price tag of another $5 to $6 million, according to Hudson.
“That is another attraction for corporations that may have stipulations that need an air traffic control tower to land those corporate jets,” Romeoville Mayor John Noak said.
“You want to have a traffic cop, if you will, between the intersection of two runways,” Lawson added.
Democrat Lipinski, who sits on both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Aviation, said he is pushing for a long-term FAA reauthorization bill.
“What we need to do is have everyone work together,” he said. “The problem is, in Washington, we aren’t having the parties working together.” In July, a Congressional stalemate put the reauthorization on hold, creating delays for dozens of FAA-funded projects, including Lewis airport's runway reconstruction.
In the past, Fornarotto said, the FAA could allocate funding based on a multi-year plan. But that hasn’t been possible since early 2007, when the last long-term reauthorization of the FAA expired.
“Airports are having to phase things in based on what’s doable,” Fornarotto said. “It really has changed how we look at projects.”
Fornarotto said Thursday’s meeting with area officials was an important first step in beginning a dialogue on what projects are needed as Lewis airport continues to grow.
“The airport should be commended because they are planning for the future,” she said. “Today is really about beginning a conversation … and understanding their vision for the future.”