Airport taxiway is now in use, 2009 priorities in view

Now that Archuleta County’s Stevens Field has opened its new parallel taxiway, airport manager Bill McKown is looking ahead to 2009.

Approximately 60 days after completion of Airport Improvement Project (AIP) 18, Stevens Field safety has been greatly enhanced by the opening of a taxiway connecting the north end of the airport runway with a midfield apron adjacent to Fixed Base Operations (FBO).

While final numbers aren’t in yet, county officials believe total AIP 18 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.

As part of AIP 18, workers also completed a two-mile long interior road. Both the taxiway and road will prevent unwanted aircraft and vehicular traffic on the runway.

In the past, when pilots needed to taxi from hangars along “Taxiway Bravo” to the FBO or north end of the runway, they had to use the runway, itself. That effectively closed the airport to all landings and takeoffs, until the runway was clear.

Though planes must still travel the runway north from Bravo to the FBO, once there, they can move to the taxiway. Moreover, as aircraft arrive on runway 10 (northbound), they can now utilize the taxiway to reach midfield and the FBO.

While use of the interior road is restricted to land-based vehicles, it too prevents fuel and maintenance trucks, and other official airport vehicles from occupying the runway and closing the field. Most important, by reducing needless runway congestion, aircraft can arrive and depart safely.

According to McKown, his first priority in the coming year will be securing adequate funding for a new seal-coat on the runway and connecting taxiway aprons. While in good shape and only a few years old, the surfaces apparently require sealing every so often, to prevent cracks or surface deterioration from developing.

During a recent phone interview, McKown said the total cost of the project had not yet been determined, but thought CDOT and the county would contribute about $7,800 each, with the FAA adding approximately $300,000 in two years worth of entitlements.

Though McKown believes seal-coating will cost about $140,000 — maybe less with falling oil prices — he said this week, that FAA officials now suggest the county may only see about 33 percent of the entitlements. The decline, of course, is attributable to the recent economic downturn, nationwide.

While that would leave the balance of project funding in question, it would also eliminate any extra that could be applied toward the repair and resurfacing of a 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 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 drops in the costs of oil and asphalt, and estimated the overall figure at around $330,000. As another of his top priorities for 2009, he has already applied for additional grant funding, while engineering is now underway and contractor bids will soon follow.

Even in light of these uncertain economic times, McKown remains hopeful that seal-coating and north ramp repairs will be completed by the end of next summer.

chuck@pagosasun.com