WARWICK, R.I. - T.F. Green Airport is moving ahead with plans to extend its runway and enhance airplane safety thanks to $110 million in federal funds announced Tuesday.
The work could lead to more non-stop flights in and out of the state's main airport, said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who announced the funds at the airport in Warwick alongside Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Mayor Scott Avedisian.
"It's essential to keep T.F. Green in the forefront, to give us a competitive edge," said Reed, a Democrat.
Of the money, $50 million will help pay to extend the 7,200-foot runway by almost 1,500 feet to accommodate longer national and international flights. Such flights generally require bigger, heavier planes with more fuel, necessitating a longer runway for takeoffs and landings. Of the rest of the money, $30 million will go toward runway safety improvements and $30 million will fund noise abatement for people who live near the airport, about 60 miles southwest of Boston's Logan International Airport.
The funds will come from the Federal Aviation Administration over five years. The airport plans to spend $42 million of its own money on the work, which could begin next summer.
The runway expansion had been held up by a federal lawsuit filed by Warwick officials over its impact on health and pollution. The lawsuit was dropped last spring after Chafee, an independent, asked the city to end its challenge, saying the extension was critical to the state's economic development.
On Tuesday, Chafee said the longer runway will not only create short-term construction jobs but also fuel long-term economic development by allowing more flights to use the airport, which handled about 4 million passengers last year. Chafee said improvements in infrastructure and education are the two best ways of spurring new investment in the state, which has the nation's second-highest unemployment rate at 10.7 per cent.
Chafee contrasted the runway expansion project to the state's failed investment in former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company, 38 Studios, which is seeking bankruptcy protection, leaving the state on the hook for as much as $100 million.
"This is positive. This is what we should be doing," the governor said. "This is going to pay off in the long term."