The city of Atlanta has begun the process of determining the best solution for relieving pressure on Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is already the world's busiest and is expected, despite a recent runway addition, to reach its capacity within the next 10 years.
ONE PROPOSAL that the study committee should reject immediately is the one reported recently, to expand the airport in Chattanooga, Tenn., to handle Hartsfield-Jackson's overflow and thus sending Georgia jobs, tax dollars and revenues across state lines. If going out of state was Atlanta's only option for a second commercial airport to serve the growing population of our state, it might be worth considering. But that is hardly the case.
For instance, Augusta Regional Airport is centrally located within easy access of several metropolitan areas, including Atlanta (150 miles), Macon (100 miles), Savannah (100 miles) and Columbia, S.C. (70 miles). There are 2.2 million people living within a 90-mile radius of Augusta Regional, with a median household income of $35,945. Within a 150-mile radius, the population is more than 10 million with a median household income of $42,812.
Augusta Regional would have to undergo far less expansion than the Tennessee facility to serve as a viable alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson. The commercial runway at Augusta Regional is 8,000 feet long, fully 600 feet longer than the Chattanooga runway. There are precision instrument landing system approaches to Runways 17 and 35 at the Augusta airport.
THERE ALREADY is a new terminal under construction at Augusta Regional, with excess capacity to accommodate several additional airlines. December 2007 is the expected completion date for the new terminal, which has been designed for easy expansion as needed.
The Augusta airport also is in an industrial area with very little residential development, providing room for future growth while avoiding potential noise complaints and issues.
Even supporters of the Tennessee airport expansion admit that high-speed rail would have to be constructed to connect Atlanta's northern suburbs to the Chattanooga facility for that proposal to work. It is important to note that a rail line already exists between Atlanta and Augusta.
The city of Atlanta was awarded a $1 million federal grant this year for the purpose of studying ways to increase capacity at Hartsfield-Jackson, with a strong suggestion by federal officials to explore options for a second commercial airfield. A special study committee is expected to be appointed in the near future.
As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I will be enlisting the support not only of my colleagues in the General Assembly but also Gov. Sonny Perdue, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, and local congressmen U.S. Reps. John Barrow (D-Savannah) and Paul Broun (R-Athens) to meet with Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta and members of the study committee as soon as possible.
HOPEFULLY, THEY will agree that the employment, taxation and other economic benefits of a second "major" airport for Georgia should stay here in Georgia - and that the most sensible and viable alternative is our own Augusta Regional Airport.
(The writer (D-Augusta) serves the 120th District in the Georgia House of Representatives.)
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