City Hopes "If You Build It, They Will Come"
St. Louis's Lambert International Airport opened its new Runway
11-29, its first in nearly 50 years, this week... but whether the
airport needed it or not is still the subject of debate in that
Proponents of the new runway who were present at Thursday's
dedication -- celebrating the end of a $1.1 billion project that
was more than 15 years in the making, the Associated Press reports
-- hope the new runway will reduce weather delays, and allow the
airport to handle increased passenger demand.
"Critical to continuing the region's economic momentum is an
airport that is efficient, so the airlines can serve our growing
demand for air service," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.
Critics of the project, however, say
the airlines aren't responding to that "growing demand" fast enough
to support a new runway. They cite current traffic levels at the
airport that remain a third less than they were prior to 9/11. An
entire concourse remains nearly empty, critics say, and an FAA
forecast says it will likely be after 2020 before traffic rebounds
to pre-2001 levels.
"[The new runway] amounted to an excessive waste of resources
and the destruction of a community," said Sara Barwinski, who led
one of three groups opposed to the project.
Barwinski would know; her family had to leave their home in the
St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton, a community that lost about 2,000
homes, businesses, and schools to make room for the new runway in
St. Louis began talking of a new runway in 1989. Business was
(comparatively) booming at that time; TWA was still in business,
and Lambert Airport was its main hub. But that was before the 9/11
terrorist attacks -- and in the months that followed, American
Airlines (which had since purchased TWA) cut half of its flights to
the airport. By that point, however, work was well underway on the
There is a slim degree of hope for Lambert, however -- after a
decade of declining numbers, traffic levels increased in 2005, by a
healthy 10 percent.
"You know the saying 'If you build it, they will come?'" FAA
regional spokesman Chris Blum said. "Now that St. Louis has the
capability, it becomes a much more attractive option for airlines
to do business here."
Regardless of the need for a new runway based on existing
passenger levels, Lambert director Kevin Dolliole said he's glad to
have 11/29 for another reason: weather.
"Previously, our two major parallel runways were too close
together to allow simultaneous aircraft arrivals in inclement
weather," Dolliole said, adding the new runway allows for
simultaneous arrivals in more than 99 percent of all weather