A proposed indoor
auto racing complex, expansion of jet maintenance facilities and a host of other airport-related capital improvements received a boost from the federal
government on April 4th.
After months of study, the Federal Aviation Administration ruled that some 42 capital projects would have "no significant impact" on the environment surrounding Pittsburgh International Airport.
FAA approval of the Allegheny County Airport Authority's environmental assessment report clears the way for the airport, the county, and in some cases, private developers to move ahead with planning for the projects.
"It's just very good news. One of the delays we've had in moving forward with development at the airport has been the environmental study. Now that it's complete, it clears the way for us to be more aggressive in our development work," Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey said.
Airport Authority Executive Director Kent George said approval puts the county in the position to move quickly on the proposed $160 million expansion of jet maintenance facilities should the federal government approve United Airlines' $11.6 billion purchase of US Airways.
The project is viewed as critical to keeping thousands of jet maintenance jobs in the region.
The FAA action should also help to shift the Brant Pittsburgh Auto Racing Complex out of neutral. The project, the first of its kind in the world, has been idling at the starting line for months as developers awaited federal approval.
Fraas, general manager of Brant Motorsports of Morgantown, WV, said approval should enable developers to coordinate financing plans. Brant is shooting to open the complex in 2003.
The complex is expected to cost more than $300 million. It will feature a 1-mile banked oval track with seating for at least 60,000. There are also plans to incorporate a 1-mile road course and a 1/8 mile drag strip into the design.
As part of its approval, the FAA has required Brant to do a traffic study, propose plans and schedules for the completion of several parking and highway improvements and install a treatment system for mind drainage.
Fraas said none of the requirements would derail the project.
"They're all minor issues which we had anticipated and are ready to take care of," he said.
Other projects affected by the FAA action include the construction of new de-icing pads for airplanes, a parking lot expansion and new equipment buildings at the airport and two office developments on airport-owned land.
The environmental assessment looks at the proposed impact of the projects in 26 areas, including air and water quality, traffic, noise, historic and cultural
resources, threatened and endangered species, and wetlands.
Its approval does not end the red tape, however.
The authority still must do an airspace review to ensure that none of the projects will be affected by airport landings and takeoffs, and it must adjust the airport layout plan. The FAA must sign off on both.
"They can't put the shovel in the ground just yet," FAA spokesman Jim Peters said.
Once the amended layout has been approved, aviation-related projects like the maintenance center will become eligible for federal funding. Non-aviation projects like the race track do not qualify for such funding.
Had the FAA found that any of the projects had a significant environmental impact, airport officials or developers would have had to mitigate the problems or do a
more extensive environmental impact study.
Without the FAA approval, Brant might have been forced to look elsewhere to build the racing complex, Fraas said.
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