Monday, January 23, 2012

Ground broken for $791 million Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (KFLL) runway.

Broward County Mayor John Rodstrom officiates the groundbreaking for the expanded south runway at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
(Susan Stocker, Sun Sentinel / January 23, 2012)

Decades after it was first envisioned, ground was broken Monday on a new $791 million runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

It was a day some thought would never come, and some hoped wouldn't.

"There's probably no project that's been talked about more," Broward Mayor John Rodstrom told a thick crowd next to the runway site Monday.

Though it was conceived of well before the Great Recession, politicians and business leaders hailed the runway for the construction jobs it will bring — an estimated 11,000 — and the infusion of money into the economy — an estimated $1 million per day at the peak of construction next year.

"Yeah!'' someone in the audience shouted when the job figure was announced.

The runway will be an engineering spectacle, one of the most significant public works projects in the state this year and next, officials said. The runway will slope eastward until it's six stories tall, crossing over the FEC railroad tracks and U.S. 1.

Work begins this month on the $179.9 million bridge that will support the tallest portion of the runway, where it crosses over the highway. Drivers will be the first to notice, as they're sent on a veering path on a new, temporary roadway, to allow work over U.S. 1 to go on without closures, Aviation Director Kent George said.

When it's built, the pathway pilots call "nine right, 27 left" will operate as a second main runway, allowing more jet traffic and reducing delays, George has promised.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said it's not unusual to be stuck on the tarmac on a ground hold.

"This is really, truly a historic moment in our community," she said.

The federal government is picking up $250 million of the runway tab, and the state will contribute $129 million, George said. The remainder will come from charges passengers pay on their plane tickets.

The runway project was easily one of Broward County's most controversial public works endeavors, and not because of the cost.

"Nothing has been more gut-wrenching," Rodstrom said.

The airport is near homes in Dania Beach. The city has fought the runway for at least two decades.

But Monday's historic event wasn't the place to retread those controversies. The county was giving out baseball caps for the occasion and had a huge showing including U.S. Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood, the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration Michael Herta, Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, the honor guard for the Transportation Safety Administration, and all nine county commissioners.

Even Rodstrom, who represents Dania Beach and voted against the runway, wore a smile and climbed into a backhoe to dig into a mound of dirt and scatter it on the ground, a ceremonial beginning.

"A few of you told me this morning you remember when this was a little, small airport," LaHood said. "Look what happened."

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