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Airport manager starts yearlong countdown for runway

By Justin Boron

Ben DeCosta, the general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Wednesday said let the countdown begin for the fifth runway.

The airport showcased the final phase of the more than $1 billion runway project during a media tour of the fifth runway's taxiways.

With a little more than a year left of paving, wiring, and lighting to do, DeCosta said the airport is eager to start reaping the benefits of the additional 9,000 feet of runway that will likely allay some of the heaviest air traffic delays in the nation.

"Our goal in constructing the fifth runway is to provide a way for airlines to experience more efficient service and better schedule integrity due to great airfield capacity," DeCosta said.

He said the airport expects the new runway will save the airlines $5 million a week.

Meanwhile, much of the north Clayton County community is still fearful the countdown to the runway opening will be more like the toll of the bell for their way of life, said Danny Hayes, 45, of College Park.

"I'm concerned about the noise, and I'm concerned about the air quality," he said.

Since the runway project began in 2001, citizens have expressed concern about damage to their property resulting from the detonation of quarry rock used for the fifth runway.

Already home to several landfills, the northern neighborhoods have struggled through increasing industrialization in the area.

Politicians from city councils to U.S. representatives have pried into the problem as well but haven't been able to do more for the residents than to find a forum for them to express their grievances.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Jonesboro, has held several town hall meetings on the issue and criticized the airport for not being more responsive to the communities it affects.

But with hearings ongoing for the addition of another landfill to the northern part of the county, Hayes said he has more immediate things to worry about.

The battle against the runway may be lost, he said.

Monday, airport officials and media walked on a gigantic mound of tightly packed dirt that by next May, will be covered in enough concrete to pave a two-lane road for 56 miles, said John Boatright, the project officer for the airport development program.

Collectively, the taxiways and runway will contain more than 3,000 lights and more than 12 tons of paint, he said.

The lighting and paving phase will cost about $60 million.

Contractors also are putting the finishing touches on a massive bridge the connects the ravine-size gap created by Interstate 285 snaking 70 feet below.

Another component of the project's success, airport officials say, has been the level of minority involvement.

Nearly 30 percent of the work on the project is being done by minorities.