County Comment/Groundbreaking At Runway

by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Amid the hustle and bustle of a working, Part 139 certified airport, Governor Robert Ehrlich and a host of federal, state and local dignitaries broke ground for the Runway 9-27 expansion project at Hagerstown Regional Airport (HGR), on April 16. Aircraft engines buzzed, at times causing heads to turn, as the ceremonies got underway. The FAA Tower at the airport reported no less than 57 “operations” (takeoffs and landings) occurred during the two hours of the event that day.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz told the crowd of over 100 that HGR is one of only three Maryland airports certified for commercial passenger service, along with BWI and Salisbury, has been a part of the history and commerce of Washington County since 1928, and is the site of the first “code share” affiliated commuter airline started by Maryland entrepreneur Richard A. Henson.

Motz introduced Maryland Governor Ehrlich, and thanked the state’s chief executive for being supportive of the project. Ehrlich called the airport a “tremendous economic asset” for Washington County.

State Senator Don Munson, a proponent of the project, said Ehrlich promised financial assistance and lived up to that promise, unlike the previous gubernatorial administration. The State of Maryland Department of Transportation is putting $8 million towards the $60 million project. It was announced at the ceremony that those funds will come more quickly than had been originally planned, with $2 million per year for each of four years going to Hagar’s coffers, rather than $1 million over an eight-year span.

Of the $60 million cost of the project, grant money for the project equals $57.6 million. FAA funds, some $47 million, will be coming from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is comprised of user fees such as ticket taxes, cargo taxes and aircraft fuel taxes. No income tax funds will be included.

Commissioner Dori Nipps the Board of County Commissioners representative to the Airport Advisory Commission, cited economic development pluses, and positive impact of the project on the local work force. About 5.6 million in payroll will be generated in Washington County by Phase I of the project, which has begun and is expected to be completed in about two years.

Also speaking at the ceremony, were U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett, Kathy Hall and Tim Magrath representing U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, respectively, Federal Aviation Administration representative Terry Page, Delegate Chris Shank, and Chair of the Airport Commission, Dr. Tony Dahbura.

Following the ceremonies, the speakers, other dignitaries, Airport staff and citizens gathered near the excavation site to break ground for the project that will be complete in late 2007.

Also announced at the ceremony was that the new air carrier, Piedmont Airlines, will begin service to Hagerstown on May 1, 2004.