By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Six airports in Oklahoma are benefiting from the federal stimulus package receiving nearly $15 million for various construction projects.
"Those projects you see in the list we provided them, every one of those served safety in some way," said Victor Bird, Director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.
It all started with a wish list, provided to the Federal Aviation Administration by the OK Aeronautics Commission. The Tulsa International Airport and Oklahoma City Will Rogers World Airport submitted independent lists as well. The FAA went through them and awarded the grants for construction. The airports could not afford to do the projects without the financial boost from the government.
How many operations (take offs or landings) each year at Oklahoma airports receiving stimulus funds.
OKC Wiley Post
OKC Will Rogers
Most of the money went to smaller airports across the state.
"I think it's money well spent, it's investment in infrastructure," said Gary Johnson, Stillwater Regional Airport Director.
The Stillwater airport received about $5.3 million stimulus dollars to rehabilitate the south 4,800 feet of the primary runway. The paving had reached its service life and was creating debris on the runway surface, posing a safety hazard.
"It's going to be a great benefit to the users of the airport whether they're based here or flying in and out of the airports," Johnson said.
The Okmulgee Regional Airport was awarded $2.3 million to realign the taxiway system.
"We'll be able to land larger planes and get them off of the runway. As it is now, we could handle very large aircraft to come in here, but, they couldn't taxi off and get to the terminal and get fuel," said Dana Sigmon, Community Development Director for the City of Okmulgee.
In Pauls Valley, the airport has around $1 million to redo the drainage system. It was built in the 1940s. The deteriorating system is causing holes near the runway.
"A city the size of Pauls Valley, it's impossible for them to come up with the amount of money to fix it, so yeah, this was great," said Craig Carson, Pauls Valley Municipal Airport Manager.
The Bartlesville Municipal Airport will use $3.5 million to repave its runway. The Will Rogers World Airport will spend $2.3 million for airfield lighting. At Wiley Post, half a million will replace the automated lighting system for the runway.
Projects Under Fire
Currently, the FAA's stimulus projects are coming under fire from the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation. He is auditing the FAA and questioning whether the funding is going to the highest priority projects. This comes after criticism about the fact many projects are in smaller communities that have few or no commercial flights.
When the Oklahoma Impact Team asked the FAA about the selection process, the spokesperson said being shovel ready was the number one priority. Whole projects and taxiways also got preference. Sixty-eight percent of the total $1 billion awarded went toward pavement projects.
"There was a limited amount of money to spread among a number of worthy projects and ultimately the ones that were most urgent ended up getting funding," said Lynn Lunsford, FAA Spokesperson.