Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Southwest Florida International wishes closer to granted: Advisory panel urges port authority to accept $14 million in state money for parallel runway.

Two long-range projects at Southwest Florida International — a second runway and a commerce park — are a step closer to reality.

On Tuesday, the panel of businesspeople that advises Lee County commissioners on airport matters:

Recommended accepting a $14 million Florida Department of Transportation grant, which is earmarked for the runway project; and

Asked commissioners to OK a contract for $508,654 with David Douglas Associates Inc., for design work for Skyplex Boulevard.

County commissioners, sitting as the port authority board, will weigh in on these topics and others when they next meet with the Airports Special Management Committee. That begins 1:30 p.m. March 12, at the international airport’s Conference and Training Center.

The second runway will be built south of the passenger terminal and parallel to the existing runway. The latest grant brings state transportation’s total investment in the parallel runway to more than $32 million.

Groundbreaking for the runway itself is still many years off: Mark Fisher, deputy executive director for development, estimated it could occur around 2020.

Elements necessary for that runway to be used, however, are well under way. They include a new aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, which is under construction and could be finished by summer; and a new air traffic control tower. On the latter, a location has been set. “We’re working to secure funding,” Fisher said.

The second runway alone is expected to cost more than $300 million, said Bob Ball, Lee County Port Authority executive director.

“The more we can do using grants, passenger facility charges and pre-planning, ... the less impact the project will have on rates and charges to airlines,” Ball said. That’s important to attracting and retaining air service, Ball noted.

Skyplex Boulevard is a road that’s planned to make airport property that’s not needed for aviation more attractive to developers of technology centers, office parks and the like. It will begin on Daniels Parkway, roughly opposite the easternmost entrance to JetBlue Park, and stretch to Chamberlin Parkway, which borders the northern portion of the airfield.

The new ballpark begins its spring training schedule this weekend. “It’s obvious there will be further development between the ballpark and Lehigh Acres,” Ball said.

There’s no start date as yet for the road. Ball called Skyplex Commercial Center “a long, long-term program” that could unfold over as many as 30 years.

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