Runway opposition seems to ebb BWI meeting draws scant testimony

December 04, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Despite strong opposition two years ago, only five people came to a public hearing last night to testify against extending a runway at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Complaining about noisy and low-flying airplanes, people at the meeting said the state hasn't proven that the 1,000-foot extension of the east-west runway is needed.

running out of money," said Carol Nowakowski, who lives in Hanover west of BWI, about the state's financial condition. "You are pushing funds into this and I don't think you have proven that this project is worthwhile."

The Maryland Aviation Administration proposed lengthening the 9,500-foot runway in 1990 by adding 550 feet to the west end and 500 feet to the east end.

State officials say the $12 million- to $14 million-project, which includes some new taxiways, is needed to accommodate 747s flying in from the Middle East and Pacific Rim nations. These planes require long runways during certain weather conditions.

The project is being funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is picking up 75 percent of the tab, and by proceeds from the new $3 surcharge being levied on all BWI passengers. It is part of an overall plan to boost the number of international flights to and from BWI, which has seen the number of domestic flights and passengers drop in the last two years.

Last year, Japan Air chose Virginia's Dulles Airport over Maryland because BWI's longest runway was too short for fully loaded 747s on some international flights.

State officials are also designing a $140 million international gateway, called Pier F, with six to eight new passenger gates and a light-rail station underneath.

When the airport announced the runway extension, community groups rose in opposition, pushed for an environmental assessment and pledged to mount a unified fight against the proposal.

But opposition apparently has waned. Ted Mathison, the MAA administrator, attributed that to a campaign that explained the technical aspects of the runway to citizens and elected officials.

"We seem to have satisfied most people's concerns," Mr. Mathison said. "We explained the project and many people are satisfied."

But not all. Lewin Maddox, who represents the Glen Burnie Improvement Association, said he is concerned about the safety of Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School, which sits one mile from the eastern edge of the airport and three miles from where most planes take off.

Airport officials say that some older 747s may come within 492 feet of the school while taking off from the longer runway.

Dennis Stevens, president of the Airport Coordinating Team, a watchdog group that represents 600 people living around BWI, said state officials have continually overestimated how much the airport is used.

He said the airport's 1987 master plan projected much higher traffic in terms of flights and passengers than actually have occurred.

"Your projections were way off," he said. "How accountable are you going to be? Is this airport really being utilized? Airport traffic is down. Passenger traffic is down . . . we ought to have second thoughts about this."

But Mr. Mathison said that while domestic travel has virtually fallen flat over the past two years, international travel at BWI has increased 77 percent. "It was impossible to project this trend a couple of years ago," he said. "You don't take mass transit on a trip to Argentina."

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