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Federal grants to aid Durango-La Plata County Airport redesign

Millions will pay for runway and terminal improvements
Tony Vicari, aviation director of the Durango-La Plata County Airport, greets passengers in 2021 as they prepare to depart a Delta Air Lines flight from Salt Lake City. (Durango Herald file)

Durango-La Plata County Airport was awarded two federal grants on Tuesday that will aid the airport with rehabilitating its runway and a terminal design project.

Tony Vicari, aviation director for DRO, told Durango City Council on Tuesday he anticipated the first grant, which is worth $11.6 million to fund the rehabilitation of the runway this September.

A second grant awarded on Tuesday caught Vicari by surprise. The grant is $3.2 million and was awarded through a bipartisan airport terminal infrastructure program, he said.

“This is a highly competitive process,” he said of the grant. “In the first wave of applications, there were over 600 applications that came in from airports across the country totaling over $14 billion with only $1 billion in available funding this year. Very competitive process in terms of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) ultimately choosing which projects would secure those awards in federal fiscal year ’22, and Durango was selected as one.”

He said the money will be “critical” for DRO’s first phase of terminal development at the airport that is scheduled to get underway in the first quarter of 2023. He said the airport will close on a construction bid within the next two weeks and hire a contractor.

The scope of the project includes additional gate space, an additional airline gate that will allow for more capacity at the airport, new post-screening concessions and public restrooms, and additional utility infrastructure that will support the next phase of the project in 2024.

Tony Vicari, director of aviation at the Durango-La Plata County airport, describes some of the plans for the airport during an open house for the short- and long-term airport plans at Durango City Hall. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Vicari said the second grant award is “major news” for the airport because it has allowed the city to reallocate some money it budgeted for the first phase of the project to the second phase, which is the larger phase in the terminal design project.

He said $1 billion will be available for grant awards annually over the next four years. He said he expects the competition with other airports for the grants will increase in the coming years.

“I think we have a highly justified and eligible project, but it will grow more competitive over time,” he said.

He said the funding will also help the airport with a taxiway reconstruction project.

“It’s a really great situation where our project design and capital planning is aligning with available funding and allowing us to take the opportunity to really move the ball on this particular project in a way that fits the incremental needs of the airport,” he said.

In March, DRO hosted an open house to show off airport terminal designs and to outline the project phases.

Phase 1A is a targeted project that will focus on expanding parking opportunities at the terminal, Vicari said at the open house.

The main parking area will be expanded with a new ingress into the area, a new rental car parking area will be built, the outer parking lot loop road will be demolished and employee parking will be moved to the south overflow parking area, according to design documents displayed during the open house.

Expansion of restroom capacities and the addition of other post-screening services are also planned for Phase 1A, Vicari said.

Phase 1B will bring fundamental changes to the flow, layout and passenger experience of DRO, he said. About 25,000 square feet will be added to the airport. Transportation Security Administration screening is planned to be moved to an area yet to be built with a more linear layout, in addition to a new baggage claim area and another flight gate and seating area.

Flights to and from DRO will be suspended for 10 days in September for runway repaving and the installation of new lighting.

Though the repaving of DRO’s lone runway this September will be inconvenient for travelers, Vicari shared excitement and a belief that the routine maintenance will serve the communities of the Four Corners over the long run.


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