As they have been many times in the past two decades, hopes are high among leaders at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport that a better road for driving there is going to happen sooner rather than later.
After decades of false starts and debate about where to put a new airport, the facility many reference by its three-digit federal identifier -- XNA -- was finally built in the 1990s near Highfill in rural Benton County. Why build it there out among the cows? Because it wouldn't be very wise to put an airport in a developed area, where obstacles to safe flying already exist. An airport designed to meet the region's needs for decades to come needed to be out in the open, an easy place for airline pilots to find and land.
What’s the point?
A revised plan to create better access to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport shows promise to actually get a road built.
Drake Field in Fayetteville, which served as the region's commercial airline hub before XNA opened, got the job done, but the mountains to the north and south made flying into it a little daring sometimes. And the nearby West Fork of the White River from time to time contributed to foggy conditions no pilot relishes flying into.
Drake Field was easy to get to by car, but challenging at times to fly into or out of. XNA, on the other hand, is a delight for the pilots, but getting there by car leaves a bit to be desired.
The paths to get to XNA have, believe it or not, gotten better over the years -- two lane highways in most cases still, but widened by a few feet to make the driving experience less difficult. But they can still be a bit unnerving at night, with dark stretches and a few zig-zag turns mixed in.
For years, airport officials hoped to build a controlled-access highway directly to the airport -- so exclusively designed for the airport's customers that some referred to it as a "long driveway" to the airport.
That never made much sense, a fact demonstrated by the difficulty airport officials have had through the years getting the project, shall we say, to take off.
Now, airport officials' are pinning their hopes on a new approach, one that acknowledges the airport isn't an island in need of a connection to the mainland, but more of a major contributor to the need for a road that serves other residents and businesses in the area.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation, already involved in the environmental study needed for the road, has said it will design the new road as well. That, according to airport officials, could speed up the process of getting the road done.
With the state's involvement, any future road would be less a "driveway" and more of a road serving a healthy swath of Benton County, particularly access to the county's western side.
Naturally, with a facility like an airport, there's some bureaucracy involved. Questions remain about whether the Federal Aviation Administration will provide funding assistance for a highway not specifically designed as a road to the airport. Hopefully, the agency's bean counters can figure out a win-win situation of having the state involved and getting the road built -- achieving the goal of everyone involved.
Air travelers certainly appreciate a safe and efficient airport, but one of the biggest hassles those travelers face -- besides the security line -- is the automobile journey to the airport. Making that simpler and safer is a worthwhile project of the airport, the state and the FAA.
Commentary on 07/09/2019
Print Headline: Will it take off?