Harlingen airport scales back runway extension project to trim cost

·3 min read

Aug. 28—HARLINGEN — The construction contract for extending the main runway at Valley International Airport was approved last week by the airport's board and now goes to the City Commission.

The scope of the project has been trimmed to reduce expenses after the two bidders on the contract came in at $39.96 million and $32.39 million. Initially, the project was budgeted for $20 million to $21 million.

The new contract, negotiated with the winning bidder, Foremost Paving Inc. located in Elsa, is $27.41 million.

"These were over-budget," Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation at VIA, told the board of the initial bids. "We worked with the FAA and we also worked with the contractor to reduce the scope of the work."

"We were able to accomplish that and the low bidder has agreed to the reductions in scope so we were actually able to shed approximately $5 million of the contract price," he added.

Most of the savings in the reduced project will come from delaying the deployment of new navigational aids at the airport.

The runway extension to the south will push the longest runway at VIA from 8,301 feet to 9,400 feet, which airport officials say is the longest runway south of Austin and Houston.

The delayed deployment of the upgraded navigation aids, called Category II versions of the Instrument Landing System, or ILS, allows pilots to guide their planes in to land during times of poor visibility.

The CAT II system allows for a much lower ceiling for pilots to come in for a landing than the current CAT I system, lessening the possibility a pilot will have to abort a landing and divert to another airport. It is an improved version of the navigational aids currently in use.

The longer runway will provide a major cost-savings for the airport's freight haulers.

Cargo haulers like Fedex and DHL have significantly increased operations at VIA over the past several years.

But they are working under restricted flight loads, which limit cargo capacity to 42 percent. The extended runway will mean they can increase that load to over 70 percent capacity, which is about the maximum load air cargo haulers use in order to limit wear-and-tear on their planes.

Since VIA has two other runways, Wren has said previously that airport officials expect disruptions to be minimal until the new runway is finished. He anticipates breaking ground in October and the project should take about a year, depending on weather.

Almost all of funding for the runway project will come from the Federal Aviation Administration through its Airport Improvement Program, subsidized with airport funds from the passenger facility charge on each ticket sold.

After the runway project was approved, the FAA also gave approval to a new control tower at the airport, with an estimated cost of $28 million.

"I just want to say, the runway extension, and the control tower immediately thereafter, discretionary money, unbelievable, never seen," Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA, told the board. "You just don't get this from the FAA.

"In the 35 years I've been doing this, we never received this amount of money for an airport of this size," he added.

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