Written by: Robert Walch for Off 68
With the clock ticking, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Airport staff hopes that construction on a necessary runway safety project will soon be underway. The federally mandated project must be completed by 2015.
Mark Bautista, Monterey Peninsula Airport District Deputy General Manager, Planning and Development, explained that Congress has mandated that airports that serve air carriers must meet current runway safety standards by the end of 2015.
This doesn’t mean just the runway itself but also the area around the runway, especially the end of it. The area just beyond the runway’s end must be maintained in such a manner that if an aircraft undershoots or overshoots a landing or takeoff, “there is a reasonable expectation that the risk of damage to the plane and risk of injury is greatly reduced.”
Monterey has two runways that must meet this runway safety area requirement. Runway 10L-28R, a small, general aviation runway, currently meets the Runway Safety Area (RSA) requirements based on the types of aircraft utilizing it.
The second, longer runway is used by the commercial air carriers and does not presently meet these requirements. Bautista explained that there must be one thousand feet beyond the end of the runway on each end.
To meet that requirement the additional space would jut into the Monterey Pines Golf Course on one end and infringe on Tarpy’s Roadhouse Restaurant space on the other. Since that wasn’t really feasible, the airport staff worked with the FAA to come up a plan that would utilize an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) to create an acceptable RSA. If EMAS is used, the FAA says the 1,000 additional feet of safety enhancement isn’t necessary.
Basically, EMAS, in this instance, would be a bed of pre-cut 4-feet x 4-feet concrete blocks placed at the end of the runway to decelerate an overrunning aircraft in an emergency.
To make this plan work, Bautista said the existing runway has to be moved 425 feet toward the east. Because the airport is located on a mesa, it will be necessary to add retaining walls and earthen fill behind them to create the space needed at both ends of the runway to install the EMAS
Both sides of the runway must also continue to have vehicle service roads which are necessary for maintenance and emergency access. On the golf course side there will still be enough room for the access road but on the east end, because of the size of the retaining walls, the road will have to be relocated.
The existing exit for Tarpy’s will be closed and a new one will be created off Highway 68 that will serve both the restaurant and the security access gate for the airport’s east side maintenance/emergency road.
The $46 million project was ready to begin construction last year when a complaint was filed in June by the Highway 68 Coalition seeking a restraining order and injunction. The group argued that Environmental Impact Report did not adequately address alternatives and greenhouse gas emissions. There were also concerns voiced about the new access road.
An existing contract for the project had to be canceled, although the court did allow work to proceed on laying down a water line for irrigating new plantings which would eventually be set out in the construction area.
In October a judgment from the Monterey County Superior Court upheld many of the challenged portions of the environmental analysis but also identified some areas that needed further study. A 45-day comment period on the Revised Draft EIR began in October.
The visual impact of the west side of the runway will only be noticeable from the golf course. On the east side, because some trees and undergrowth will have to be removed and new trees will be planted, there will be a narrow window from Highway 68 where the construction work will be clearly visible for a while.
Although the EIR by the airport’s board of directors has been certified and re-submitted to the Court, Bautista said a decision is still pending as of early January.
“We were set to begin construction a year ago and figured we would complete the work by the late part of 2014,” he said. “We feel we’ve addressed the judge’s concerns and are awaiting her decision.”
To meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline set by the FAA, the project will have to proceed as soon as possible. Bautista is concerned that the longer the wait, the more expensive the new contract might be.
“The shorter the period of time it is to fulfill the contract, the more expensive it becomes,” the Salinas resident said. “There are a lot of trade-offs as the clock continues to tick.”
What complicates the matter even more is the fact that when each end of the runway project is completed, there is additional time needed to reposition the runway lighting and other equipment needed to guide aircraft safely in and out of the airport.
“The bottom line here is we are making a safe airport even safer,” Bautista said.