PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With golden shovels in hand and relieved faces, Mayor James Ruberto, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, Federal Aviation Administration’s New England Airports Division Manager Laverne Reid and more than 10 others including Middle Register of Deeds Andrea Nucifero, former state senator, and former Mayor Gerald Doyle broke ground today at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.
The ceremony was held at the end of the tarmac, where Phase I of the controversial airport expansion will begin thanks to the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. In addition to 1,000 feet of added runway space, airport improvement plans also include four new aircraft hangars as well as a new (or extensively refurbished) terminal and an additional roadway that connects to the existing entrance to create circular traffic flow. Reid said the improvements promise to bring safety and opportunity to Berkshire County.
"This is an ideal partnership between federal, state and local
government," she said. "The airport is strategically located in the Berkshires. It’s the ideal place for an airport that will be a front door to your community."
When the expansion project is complete, the tarmac will be 5,790 feet long.
According to Reid, the FAA will foot $10 million of the roughly $25 million project. MassDOT will contribute $13.5 million, leaving the city to foot the remaining $3.5 million. Not a bad deal, according to airport commission Chairman Kevin Magner.
"This is one of the largest projects ever undertaken by the city of Pittsfield," he said. "The citizens of the city will benefit immensely from this. We've had to hone the compromise to a fine point. The project will satisfy the greatest number of concerns for safety and for the taxpayers as well."
Magner made light of the grueling process of permitting and negotiating that has ensued over the last 12 years. According to Olver, who was instrumental in securing much of the funding for the expansion, the airport has always been part of Pittsfield’s big picture.
"This goes back to 1999 when Pittsfield began drafting its master plan," he said. "The airport expansion was cited as a very important economic investment for Pittsfield and Berkshire County."
The economic benefits of the expansion are second only to the safety regulations that the airport will strive to meet in the coming years. According to MassDOT Secretary Jeffrey Mullan safety is the top priority; the rest will follow suit.
"The governor [Deval Patrick] considers this to be one of his signature projects," he said. "The airport will be better equipped to serve businesses and to make for a more successful tourism industry."
Phase I of the expansion is already benefitting Maxymillian Technologies Inc., the Pittsfield-based environmental and remediation construction firm assigned to readying the earth for the expanded 5,790 foot runway as well as other site reconfigurations. According to Reid, the top priority for now is getting the tarmac up to code so that larger planes (such as those used by FedEx) and emergency services can use the runway without worry.
"Many areas can be improved," she said. "We need appropriate runway width and length so that if there is an emergency aircraft can safely land and take off. We are approaching work with the airport on an individual basis to meet regulations for its size. It will never be a Logan."
As to when the expansion project will be finished, Reid said "time is of the essence" and that the FAA hopes that completion will be in "a couple of years."