BWI plans still in holding patterns Runway extension, noise study delayed

July 12, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Two projects at Baltimore-Washington International Airport have been stalled for more than a year because the federal government is having problems updating a computer model that measures noise.

Michael West, the Maryland Aviation Administration associate administrator for planning and engineering, called the delays "frustrating" Thursday night at a meeting of residents who live near the airport.

The MAA is trying to complete an environmental impact statement for a runway extension and finish its work on a new "noise zone" map, which depicts the area around the airport deemed too noisy for homes.

Both projects require engineers to conduct detailed noise studies that measure decibel levels near the runways. But they can't do that until the Federal Aviation Administration gives them a computer model to use.

Officials described the problems as computer glitches. "They told us they were working diligently on it," the MAA administrator Ted Mathison told the group. "But they still come up with problems."

Airport officials refused to discuss details after the meeting, citing a gag order from Governor William Donald Schaefer's office on any communication with the media.

Last January, the airport released preliminary maps showing that noise levels had significantly been reduced since the last study was done in 1988.

The noise zone designates areas with an average daily noise level of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown commercial street. Residents living in the noise zone are eligible for state programs which would either buy back their homes, soundproof them or help locate buyers.

The General Assembly has mandated that the airport reduce the noise zone from its current 12,100 acres to 8,500 acres by next year, a goal the MAA is trying to reach by encouraging air carriers to use quieter planes.

Last year, Mr. West said the new noise-zone map would be reduced to 9,600 acres by the spring. But Thursday night, officials said they hope to have a public hearing on the map in September or October.

Also being delayed are expansion plans for the airport's east-west runway. The state wants to lengthen the 9,500-foot runway by 1,000 feet, which would give larger jets more take-off room and in turn, enable them to carry enough fuel to reach destinations across the Pacific and in the Middle East.

When plans for the runway extension were announced in August 1990, officials said they hoped to start construction in 1991. But Thursday night, they said the environmental assessment won't be done until this fall because of delays with the noise model.

Mr. West did say, however, that officials now prefer to lengthen the runway by adding 500 feet to each end, rather than build the entire 1,000 feet on either end.

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