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Chris Jones

Vegas Airport Gets $24.4 Million Upgrade Grant

14 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Describing Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport as the "gateway to Nevada's economic future," a U.S. Department of Transportation official on Thursday awarded the nation's seventh-busiest passenger airport a $24.4 million grant toward planned ground improvements.

The Clark County Aviation Department will use the federal grant to pay for most of a nearly $40 million renovation of one of McCarran's two southwest-by-northeast facing runways and its adjacent Taxiway D. That project is expected to get under way in approximately six months and will take about three years to complete, airport officials said.

"These runway improvements will mean safer, more efficient transportation critical to keeping Nevada's and America's economies moving forward," Martin Whitmer, a Transportation Department deputy chief of staff, said during Thursday's presentation ceremony at McCarran.

McCarran's Runway 1R-19L was built in 1948 and refurbished in 1976 and 1992. Despite those upgrades, airport planning manager Dennis Mewshaw said, the asphalt beneath the 9,800-foot-long runway must soon be replaced with concrete. And plenty of it.

"The 3.25 million cubic feet of concrete we'll need is the equivalent of what it would take to build a 5-foot-wide sidewalk from McCarran to San Diego," Mewshaw said, adding the runway's asphalt is cracked, rutted and gradually losing its ability to safely carry the weight of fully loaded jet aircraft.

Runway 1R-19L and its parallel 1L-19R runway combine to handle approximately 15 percent of McCarran's aircraft operations. Both will remain in operation during the renovation, though Mewshaw said the 1L-19R runway was built using concrete in 1998 and is not due for renovation.

Mewshaw said McCarran's two east-west facing runways, which combine to handle 85 percent of the airport's takeoffs and landings, were built using asphalt and will need to be upgraded.

Coupled with other recently resumed construction and renovation projects at McCarran, Clark County Deputy Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis said news of Thursday's grant is another sign that the airport has almost fully recovered from a travel industry slowdown that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We are truly back on track," Vassiliadis said. "We're going to realize our growth goals, the trends that we were feeling back in August 2001.

"With that, we're going to go back full strength ... with our capital projects, which are so incredibly important to us."

McCarran's March passenger traffic tally of nearly 3.64 million was the best monthly total in airport history and a 16.1 percent improvement from March 2003. Vassiliadis said early data also suggests April's final count will be at least 14 percent better than last year's reported April total of nearly 2.9 million passengers.

Audited passenger statistics for April 2004 will be released later this month.

Vassiliadis said security-related capital projects have received more attention in recent months. But she stressed McCarran's planned runway and taxiway improvements are just as important to travelers.

"It all starts out there on the airfield," Vassiliadis said.