MN Lt. Gov., 148th Fighter Wing heading to D.C. to request $30 M in Duluth Int'l Airport runway expansion

By KBJR News 1

April 6, 2014 Updated Apr 6, 2014 at 11:04 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - When Duluth International Airport undergoes a total reconstruction of their decades–old primary runway 9–27 in the coming years, they'll need an alternative runway that's capable of servicing its three major carriers, along with the 148th Fighter Wing.

That, say DIA officials, is why they, along with Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon and other Northland business leaders, are flying to Washington D.C. Monday morning to request $30 million from the federal government--$11 million of which would be used to expand their existing secondary runway 3–21.

The attraction, retention and expansion of Duluth–based businesses like Maurices and AAR, and military services like the 148th Fighter Wing have helped add 150,000 jobs to the region since 2011.

A big part of that progress, says Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, is dependent on the Duluth International Airport serving as a global economic connector.

But the airport's primary 2–mile long runway, 9–27, is facing a deadline.

"It's over 60 years old," said the Lt. Gov during a trip to Duluth Int'l Airport Sunday to promote the expansion proposal. "It really needs to be totally reconstructed. That is more than a year–long process."

...potentially 3 years, to be exact, say DAI board members.

Currently engineers say the runway's life–cycle is up in 10 years, adding that there's no immediate safety concern.

"But we know that it does have a life," said Mike Lundstrom, President of the DAI Board of Directors during Sunday's announcement, "and that's why we are looking at the extension of the 3–21 in a 5 to 8 year period, which will set us up for the full reconstruction of the major runway."

Runway 3–21 is an existing secondary runway, measuring in at 5,700 ft. long, and used primarily when weather is a deterrent.

"But it's currently too short to support larger aircraft that already land," said Duluth Chamber of Commerce Chair of the Military Affairs Committee Pat Mullen, "and the 148th Fighter Wing that needs to come in and out of here on a daily basis."

For the 148th Fighter Wing, which brings in about $84 million for the Northland economy, expanding runway 3–21 to 8,000 ft. would allow them to continue to use the DAI as their primary Air Force infrastructure during 9–27's renovations.

Without that secondary runway ready by the time construction takes place on 9–27, the 148th would be forced to find another place to train.

"We will have leadership both from Duluth and from the state here," said 148th Col. Frank Stokes, "and we'll take this story to the Pentagon as well."

The 12–member team of Northland representatives heading to D.C. on Monday will be asking for $27.9 million, or 90% of the full project's funding, from the federal government. The other 10% of the $31 million figure would come from the Northland.

$11 million alone would go to expanding the secondary runway.

The problem here is that federal dollars usually aren't spared for runway expansions in cities this size. So, according to the Lt. Governor, the argument needs to be compelling.

"...that it is important to the entire state, and that it provides service for a large area of not only Northern Minnesota," said the Lt. Gov., "but also Wisconsin and Michigan."

If funding is secured, expanding the DAI's primary runway could begin in 10 to 12 years.

While alternatives for the proposed project do exist, the DAI Board says they would involve more maintenance, and be more costly.

Billy Wagness