There was a cast of five and an audience of only one – this reporter – as the Rhode Island Airport Corporation held a fourth in a series of public workshops on the master plan for Green Airport Thursday afternoon.
Airport planners weren’t surprised; attendance at previous workshops has been sparse, with some of the same members of the public attending more than one workshop.
There is no “hot button” to the master plan, the first since 2002. Back then, RIAC identified the need to extend a runway or even build an additional parallel runway to meet the demand for non-stop coast-to-coast and international flights. That issue, and in particular what neighborhoods would be affected and its impact on the city roads and the Winslow Park sporting complex, were the topics of extensive debate.
This time the plan is focused on meeting needs within the confines of the existing airport fences as various levels of enplanements are reached. The plan – as explained by Christine Vitt, senior vice president and chief infrastructure officer – is to identify preferred alternatives so that RIAC can respond to increased traffic as that occurs. Based on an average growth of 3.8 percent annually, RIAC has a rough idea of when this might happen. However, if traffic accelerates, the improvements could be accelerated and conversely if traffic doesn’t increase they would be put off.
The plan is focused on four components of the airport: Airside, landside, terminal and cargo/general aviation.
Looking at the terminal, Dan Porter, vice president of planning, said the preferred expansion alternative is to add gates by extending an arm from the center of the existing lineup of gates. This would require the relocation of the FAA-operated VOR (very high frequency omni directional range) that is in the center of the airfield. Vitt said as VOR systems are being replaced across the country with newer navigational aides, the station may simply be removed rather than relocated. Porter said the terminal addition would be staged with six additional gates as the first stage with the potential for the expansion allowing another 10 to 12 gates.
On the landside of the terminal, the objective is to improve the efficiency of the traffic loop by extending it south using vacant land opposite the Airport Radisson. This would gain an additional 600 ground level parking spaces (an area that could be the site of a future parking garage if needed), space to relocate the cell phone lot for arrivals and Uber and a reconfiguration of access to Post Road. Access to Post Road from short-term parking without having to loop through arrivals would be gained by making the airport Post Road access two way.
Asked of the airport’s impact on Winslow Park playing fields, Porter said RIAC is looking at what benefits could be achieved if the fields were to be screened from the airfield. This could be an earthen mound, fencing or plantings or combination of those. And while it doesn’t fall under the master plan, Eric Seabury, assistant vice president of engineering, said RIAC would meet air quality testing as required by legislation by the end of this year.
Common issues raised during the workshops, said Porter, are noise and air quality, He said the program of noise insulating homes within the 65 DNL noise contour based on the extension of Runway 5-25 to 8,700 feet is completed with the exception of one house. In the last four years 570 homes have been sound insulated at an average cost of $50,000, Porter estimated. In addition, as part of the runway extension, RIAC has bought more than 100 homes in the extended runway protection zone. Since the 1960s, airport expansion has resulted in the acquisition of 2,047 homes, Vitt said.
As for cargo/general aviation, Vitt said the major concern voiced during the planning is apron congestion. Alternatives are being offered to address that concern.
With the recent loss of Norwegian Air international flights and domestic Sun County flights that have fueled Green passenger traffic growth, Vitt said there would be a corresponding dip in traffic.
“This is not a straight line,” she said of passenger growth, “but overall the trend is still up.”
Basically, the plan is based on the projection that enplanements now at the level of 1.9 million will increase to 3.7 million by 2037; that aircraft operations will increase from 72,000 to 89,000 in the same period; and that peak hourly enplanements will go from 708 to 1,335.
Vitt said the preferred alternatives would be presented to the RIAC board at their Oct. 17 meeting along with phasing and financial aspects. She said if issues are raised and the plans altered there would likely be another public workshop. The goal is to have the master plan ready for FAA consideration and review in November.
The cost of the master plan, $1.3 million, is being borne by RIAC.