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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The terminal and front entrance is visible Friday, June 22, 2018, at the Northwest Arkansas Regioinal Airport in Highfill. The 20-year-old terminal building at the Northwest Arkansas Regioinal Airport will be getting a makeover in the next couple of years. Board members on Wednesday had in an informal input session with engineers and architects to give them a general idea of what they'd like the terminal to look like after the planned renovation and expansion. The work should result in a new front door for the terminal including a new building across the loop drive from the main terminal and a second-floor bridge into what is now the front of the terminal.

HIGHFILL -- Regional airport officials say they plan to throw in with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to get a road built to the airport and also provide a much-needed link to western Benton and Washington counties.

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport officials have been trying, in fits and starts, to get an access road built for the last 20 years.

Passing the bucks

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport directors approved their 2019 budget Wednesday.

The budget reflects about $44 million in expenses and about $42.2 million in revenue. The budget proposes nine new positions, including a special systems analyst, a chief financial officer and a chief business development officer, a new position in administration. Other new hires are expected to include an HVAC technician and a groundskeeper in the maintenance division and a communication operator, two security officers and a police chief in public safety.

Operations expenses are expected to increase from $7.2 million to $8.6 million next year. Debt service is expected to remain basically flat at $5.2 million. Capital expenses are expected to increase from $11.4 million to $30.1 million as several projects get underway, including a major terminal renovation in the design phase.

Operational revenue is expected to increase from $18.8 million in 2018 to about $19 million next year. Capital revenue, such as grants, is expected to increase from just over $1 million in 2018 to $22.5 million for 2019. Federal grants for the terminal renovation are expected.

Source: Staff report

Airport staff met with Highway Department staff Tuesday in Little Rock. They told road task force members Wednesday they believe the department already has people with the expertise to complete environmental study work, navigate state and federal bureaucracy and design, manage and build the project faster and more efficiently than the airport can.

"The purpose and need and -- really all of it, the environmental -- ultimately has to be approved by them, so having them involved early in the process seems to make a lot of sense," said Aaron Burkes, chief executive officer at the airport. "If it is going to work, I think we have the greatest chance of succeeding if they're involved in the process from the beginning and they can sort of help guide that."

Airport officials said they want to partner on the project and pay for a share of the road with money they either have on hand, federal money that comes to the airport or, if necessary, by raising money through a bond issue.

"This is ultimately a highway project that will be funded, at least in part probably, by airport revenues," Burkes said.

A couple of things have changed recently. Airport officials gave up on the idea of a long, limited access driveway from the Arkansas 612 and Arkansas 112 interchange to the airport. And, a consensus has formed that the road should also serve a much larger area west of the airport, which is expected to see rapid development in the coming years.

"This is a great time for fresh eyes and a new look at this project and it will be imperative that you all monitor the progress of that closely," said Scott Van Laningham, outgoing airport CEO. "I think now would be a perfect time to turn this over to ArDOT, they are going to have to approve it in the end. It may very well be that this moves this project forward much more quickly."

Airport officials said they expect to update an earlier memorandum of agreement with the highway department that will call for the department to take the lead on the project.

Stan Green, an airport authority director, said buy-in by the Highway department completely changes the situation the airport is dealing with.

"As a practical matter, we're not going to get it done if they're not on board with it, whatever it is, and that's where we've been for 20 years," Green said "And, so, it seems like, being pragmatic about it, if this is what they want to do and they're going to get interested it it and help get it done, as opposed to not help get it done, it seems like the way to go."

Philip Taldo, an airport authority board member who also serves on the Arkansas Highway Commission, said he sees the road as one piece of an alternative route to gather traffic from the west side of the airport and west of Centerton and the Bella Vista Bypass and funnel it toward Arkansas 612.

"I think that ultimately there's going to be another connector coming down from the north from the Bella Vista Bypass and this could be viewed as a piece of that," Taldo said.

Board member Art Morris agreed.

"When they get 612 completed to Tontitown and we get a road down to 612, this west side is going to explode," Morris said. "That's all there is to it."

Board members said the project is probably at least three years away from a receiving notice to proceed, which should give them time to get money rounded up to help pay for the project.

NW News on 12/13/2018

Print Headline: XNA to partner with state on access road

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