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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF A view of the main entrance on Thursday March 3, 2016 at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill.

HIGHFILL -- Regional airport officials say they're taking a new tack in their ongoing effort to get an access road built.

Scott Van Laningham, chief executive officer of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, said he and staff members plan to meet with state highway officials to discuss hiring consultants to get the project moving. The idea of a limited access, "long driveway" to the airport may have to change, he said.

Head hunters

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority’s Operations Committee decided to recommend to the full board they hire Russell Reynolds Associates to find the next generation of airport leadership. They’ll also look at how duties will be divvied among top management. Scott Van Laningham, executive director of the airport and Chief Financial Officer Terry Franklin are nearing retirement. Van Laningham might retire late next year.

Board members heard proposals from two executive search firms Wednesday, Russell Reynolds, an international firm with an office in Washington and ADK Consulting & Executive Search of Atlantic Beach, Fla.

The regional airport has 47 employees and a 2017 budget of about $24 million.

Source: Staff Report

"We've got a Request for Qualifications for consulting firms to help us finish the environmental impact study and then be prepared to move into the design and finishing of the project," Van Laningham said Wednesday. "We still have to address the issues of how we're going to fund it, whether it serves just the airport or a larger area -- which we think it needs to get away from the private driveway to the airport."

Changing the plan could help airport officials deal with the Arkansas Department of Transportation, which has, in the past asked them to consider using existing roads rather than building a dedicated access road from the U.S. 412 Northern Bypass, which is under construction.

"We are convinced we need fresh eyes on this whole process and that includes the consultants and the engineers and the other folks," Van Laningham said. He said they don't plan to throw away all the work that's been done, but the project needs to move forward.

A timeline distributed to board members Wednesday shows a major decision on the road being scheduled for around April but a final decision may not come until late 2019 or early 2020.

Board member Mike Johnson noted the airport authority cannot begin buying right-of-way until the environmental process is complete, even though they have the money in the bank, because a final route has not been determined.

"I don't see us changing the alternative routes, how it comes in," Johnson said. "What I think we're talking about is allowing a lot more connectivity."

Officials have been trying to get the project through the environmental impact process for a couple of years since federal Environmental Protection Agency officials asked them to determine the impact on an environmentally sensitive area outside the path planned for the access road.

The environmental division of the state transportation department asked airport officials last year to consider using existing roads, specifically Arkansas 112 after it's widened into a main corridor, and Arkansas 264, rather than build a separate road to the airport.

Current models for the access road, estimated to cost about $55 million, assume two lanes initially from the airport to the U.S. 412 Northern Bypass. Money would include $10 million in airport cash and $12 million remaining from federal grants.

Airport officials have previously said diverting airport money to state highway improvements could prove problematic with the FAA.

NW News on 11/30/2017

Print Headline: XNA access road plans may change

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