Carolina Journal News Reports
GREENSBORO — Officials with Piedmont Triad International Airport are working busily on an ambitious plan they believe will be a key part of transforming PTI into an “aerotropolis.”
Plans call for an airplane taxiway over the proposed Interstate 73 that will run along the airport’s west side. PTI already owns 900 acres there, but Bryan Boulevard — as the four-lane thoroughfare is now called — is “sort of an impenetrable barrier right now,” said Kevin Baker, PTI’s executive director.
“We’re landlocked. We don’t have access to large sites, and this will solve that problem,” Baker said. “It’s so important to be able to expand and say yes to companies when they come looking for a site. It will give us the opportunity to pursue companies that are large employers.”
The 3,000-foot taxiway would cost $56 million, with funding coming from federal, state, and local governments.
I-73 was proposed in the 1990s as part of an interstate system from Michigan to Myrtle Beach. Part of the new highway will run along the existing U.S. Highway 220 corridor through Greensboro before picking up Bryan Boulevard, which essentially runs from N.C. Highway 68 past the airport to within a couple of miles of downtown.
Initially, there were questions about exactly where I-73 would run, given that some sections of existing highway proved problematic.
PTI authority chairman Henry Isaacson said the original plan was for I-73 to be phased in along another section of N.C. Highway 68 at Interstate 40 between Greensboro and High Point.
But that plan proved too expensive and complicated. So Isaacson consulted with Doug Galyon, longtime chairman of the N.C. Board of Transportation, to see if I-73 could be rerouted along Bryan Boulevard.
That proved to be a better plan, but it cut off PTI from developable land. Galyon’s solution was a taxiway over the highway.
“It’s an incredible project. What it will allow us to do is develop many hundreds of acres that we already own. We just can’t get to it with an airplane,” Isaacson said.
Baker added the 900 acres could be developed into many small projects, but the goal is a large aerospace company that could bring hundreds — if not thousands — of jobs to the Triad area.
“In this business of attracting large aerospace manufacturing companies, large sites put you at a different level of competition. It will allow us to be in the hunt for a monster project whenever they come along,” Baker said.
Airport and transportation officials want the taxiway bridge and the section of I-73 built in concert. Right of way acquisition on I-73 will start in the next couple of years, with construction beginning in 2016.
Baker said right now the bidding process is evolving. Building a highway and a taxiway are indeed similar projects, and Baker added there are many companies out there who do what’s known as “heavy and highway.”
While the thought of seeing an airplane crossing an interstate highway might seem incredible to the millions of commuters driving along the highway, Baker insists PTI will not be breaking new ground, figuratively speaking.
The most recent example is right down the road in Atlanta, where Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s fifth runway runs over I-285, one of the busiest highways in the country.
According to the airport’s website, Hartsfield-Jackson’s fifth runway took five years to build and has averaged more than 100,000 landings and takeoffs per year.
While plans for the 900 acres provide for several smaller projects, city and airport officials certainly would love to land another tenant like HondaJet, which located its headquarters at PTI in 2007 with the help of incentives from the state, Guilford County, and Greensboro.
Plans remain for HondaJet to set up a manufacturing operation that would employ 400. HondaJet both would manufacture corporate jets and manufacture, warehouse, and distribute jet parts.
Those plans have stalled, and in October CEO Michimasa Fujino announced that production of the corporate jet would be delayed due to engine problems.
HondaJet since has tested a prototype, and hopes to begin full-scale production sometime next year.
Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.