It didn't take long for Palo Alto to reap the benefits of taking over its namesake airport from Santa Clara County.
Just two months after the city finalized the takeover, the city has announced that it has received close to $500,000 in federal funding and is preparing to upgrade the long deferred reconstruction of Palo Alto Airport's dilapidated runway.
The refurbishment of the runway at the small and bustling airport has been delayed for many years because of the county's dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration, a conflict triggered by the county's decision not to approve a skydiving operation at the San Martin Airport. The denial, which the FAA had determined ran afoul of federal regulations, kept the county from obtaining the grant funds for all of its airports, including the one in Palo Alto, which has been under its operation for more than half a century.
At the same time, Palo Alto's airport proponents have long argued that the county has no real incentive to upgrade the airport, which was under its control under a lease that was set to expire in 2017. With the condition of the runway worsening and the county complaining about the airport's economic viability, county supervisors and Palo Alto council members agreed to end the lease early. The hand-over was finalized in August.
With the airport in the city's hands, federal grant funds are now available for the runway work, according to a new report from the Public Works Department. The federal agency approved the grant on Sept. 17, about a month after both the city and the county approved the transfer. And the City Council is scheduled to approve on Monday night a $445,586 contract with Graham Contractors to rehabilitate the airport's runway and taxiway.
"We're very happy to have the grant and to be able to move forward with this," Airport Manager Andrew Swanson told the Weekly. "It was multiple different things that need to happen to be able to get to this point. Over the last year, those things have all got us to where we are today."
The council is also set to approve Monday a pair of five-year projects for on-call consulting services, with each contract costing $250,000. The consulting contracts are a necessary prerequisite to qualify for current and future federal grants, according to staff. Federal funding, the report notes, are the "primary source of funding for rehabilitation of the airport's infrastructure and adherence to the FAAs project requirements for eligibility is essential."
But the most critical project currently on the radar is the reconstruction on the airport's sole runway, the report notes. The runway is about 2,400-feet long, includes one parallel taxiway of the same length and four connector taxiways for entering and exiting the runway, according to the report.
"There are dips and pot holes that are worsening with time and are in need of immediate repair," the report states.
Swanson said that in addition to removing the tip from the runway, the project will include restriping a section of the taxiway to accommodate the larger wingtips of modern planes. Currently, wingtips occasionally extend beyond the striped taxiing area at a section of the taxiway and into the adjacent parking area.
A report from Public Works states that the project will address the "most hazardous areas of the runway and adjacent shoulders with reconstruction." Also, the entire runway and associated taxiways will receive a slurry seal and new markings and striping.
The runway project will be funded entirely by federal and county funds. While the federal grant requires a 10 percent contribution from local sources, the transfer agreement between Palo Alto and Santa Clara County included a commitment from the county to pay the local match, up to a maximum of $61,000. The total project is estimated to be about $540,000, which staff notes is "well under the total amount available for reimbursement from the FAA and the county."
Weather permitting, the project is set to begin next month and take about two weeks to complete, the Public Works report notes. If inclement weather precludes work in November, the project could be moved to spring, Swanson said.
Work will be performed in two phases, with much of the renovation taking place over four nights, between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Though the project will require occasional closure of the runway and the taxiways, the tower will continue to be staffed and other portions of the airport will remain operational.