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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Runway has hefty price tag, little use

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When our federal government decides to spend money, you can count on the money flowing for whatever project that gets the most attention. Take the 9,000-foot runway at St. Louis Lambert Airport as just one example.

Back in 1998, Lambert officials cried to federal authorities that a new runway was needed to eliminate delays. And at the time, that proposal made sense.

So Lambert began buying up nearly 2,000 homes, churches, businesses and schools to acquire the land needed for the runway. That pushed the price of the runway to $1.1 billion. That's $1.1 billion for less than two miles of concrete.

Funny thing happened since 1998. American Airlines cut its flight schedule in half and back then, TWA had their primary hub in St. Louis. But things change. Air traffic is down 36 percent in the past five years and all but two of the 14 gates in Concourse D stand empty. In short, the runway is no longer essential, though it will obviously be used.

There are few delays at Lambert and there's nothing on the horizon that should change that. The modern runway uprooted thousands and cost taxpayers a pretty penny. Don't you wish we knew then what we know now?

There really probably isn't anyone necessarily to blame. Perhaps midway through the project, officials at Lambert could have alerted the feds that issues had changed. But by then, it was probably too late.

But tell that to the homeowners who were uprooted by the change. Maybe they deserve some explanation of why officials didn't speak up when it became obvious that the delays were a thing of the past. Too late now.

I recognize that nothing remains the same. And we would have celebrated along with St. Louis officials when the runway was first approved. But that doesn't bring back the $1.1 billion that the project cost. Hopefully the new runway will encourage other airlines to expand their flights into St. Louis. But I wouldn't bet $1.1 billion on those prospects.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen