Albert Lea airport receives $1.5M grant

Published 10:40 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

The improvements at the Albert Lea Municipal Airport are one step closer to being completed thanks to a grant of more than $1.5 million announced Tuesday through the Federal Aviation Administration.

The $1.53 million grant will go toward paving the new taxiway and installing new lighting at the airport.

City Engineer Steven Jahnke said the city had initially asked for $2.8 million to complete the remainder of the airport improvements, which also included new signage, fencing and apron rehabilitation.

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“But we’re glad we’re getting the money,” Jahnke said. “It gets us that closer to finishing the project.”

The new taxiway will be paved by the spring of 2012, and the city will have to reapply for additional funds in 2012 to complete the other projects.

If that money is awarded, those projects can hopefully be completed later in 2012 or in early 2013, Jahnke said.

Ulland Bros. of Albert Lea has been awarded the contract for this year’s portion of the project.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said strengthening airport infrastructure helps strengthen the economy in a community like Albert Lea.

“This support will help ensure that Minnesota’s airports continue to be among the safest and most reliable in the nation,” she said.

First District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said, for rural communities, a well-functioning regional airport can make the difference between businesses expanding and creating jobs in the community.

In Albert Lea, the runway has been extended to 5,000 feet, and a new crosswind runway has been installed. Plaza Street north of the airport also was rerouted to make room for the new runway.

“These improvements can boost the local economy in the short- and long-term, making it more likely that businesses will create jobs right here in Albert Lea,” Walz said.

Because the runway is longer, more business jets will be able to fly into Albert Lea. Insurance companies for most operators don’t allow coverage for runways that are under 5,000 feet.

Improvements have been taking place at the Albert Lea Municipal Airport for several years and have mainly been completed with federal funds.

Airport Manager Jim Hanson said the taxiway is an old runway. He said the taxiway and former runway had been in place since the 1950s.

“We got 55 years out of it,” he said.

Jahnke said a consultant report justified extending the runway.