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Philly Officials Refigure Airport Expansion Plan to Mitigate Local Impact

May 06, 2014 6:00 am

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Locals want the benefits of more traveler traffic and heightened economic activity, but they don’t want to be kicked out of their homes and storefronts in order to receive it. This new plan is exactly what’s needed for the expansion plan to finally move forward.

— Samantha Shankman

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A tourist takes public transportation between the airport and downtown. Flickr


Plans to boost the regional economy through a multibillion-dollar modernization of Philadelphia International Airport can move forward without displacing hundreds of nearby residents, officials said Monday.

A reconfiguration of the proposed expansion has resolved a yearslong dispute with adjacent Tinicum Township that had kept the project in limbo because it threatened the demolition of 72 homes and about a dozen businesses. The development will no longer encroach on that land.

Local leaders described the agreement as a victory for jeopardized residents and the area as a whole. The project could boost the airport’s regional economic impact from $14.4 billion in 2006 to $26.4 billion by 2025, officials said.

“Today’s announcement is a triumph for everyone from the baggage handler to the corporate executive, from the vacation traveler to the airlines,” Delaware County Council chairman Thomas McGarrigle said.

The expansion is designed to make the one of nation’s busiest airports more competitive by reducing delays and adding capacity and services. Expected improvements include an extra runway, an automated people mover and a new ground transportation center over the next 12 to 15 years.

The agreement announced at an airport news conference would settle four pending lawsuits among the township, county, city of Philadelphia and Interboro School District. It still requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The deal calls for the city-owned airport to make a collective payment of nearly $1.9 million annually to the township, county and schools. Tinicum will get an additional $1 million per year for 20 years, or until the expansion is done.

The airport had previously made lower annual payments to those taxing authorities but stopped when litigation began in 2007, officials said. The funds are meant to offset lost revenue potential from airport-occupied land in Tinicum.

The dispute had been so intractable that many residents thought it would never be resolved, said Thomas Giancristoforo, president of the township’s board of commissioners.

“They have been patient over these many years as we worked to make sure the residents of Tinicum were heard, respected and protected as the plans for the airport expansion have evolved,” he said.

The airport served more than 30 million passengers last year and accommodated more than 400,000 takeoffs and landings. But officials stressed the need to grow, noting it would be a hub for the world’s largest airline if American Airlines completes a proposed merger with US Airways.

“If we stand still, we fall behind,” said Rina Cutler, the city’s deputy mayor for transportation.

Early estimates pegged the cost of the expansion at $6.4 billion, but airport CEO Mark Gale said Monday the figure could change. The mammoth project would create about 4,460 construction jobs and 1,830 professional service jobs, officials said.

The airport employs about 22,000 direct workers and supports 141,000 regional jobs, Gale said.

Follow Kathy Matheson at @kmatheson.

Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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