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Airport runway lands atop list of Rochester's legislative requests for 2019

Airport runway lands atop list of Rochester's legislative requests for 2019

A $6 million funding request for upgrades to Rochester International Airport is being included as one of the city’s top legislative priorities for 2019.

The request for state funding is part of a larger $50 million plan to improve the safety and functionality of the airport’s runway. The city is also seeking $40 million from the federal government. The remaining $4 million, according to city documents, would come from the local tax base.

The proposed improvements include a rehabilitation of the airport’s primary runway, along with the completion of a new lighting and navigation system. The cross runway would also be expanded so the airport can maintain service while work is being done on the main runway.

Council President Randy Staver, who also serves on the commission overseeing the airport, said the proposed changes would prepare RST for increasingly larger aircraft while also improving all-weather access to the airport. The Rochester airport ranks among the highest in the region in days with low visibility due to weather conditions.

The lighting upgrades “will allow aircraft to safely land in Rochester in more severe weather rather than divert,” Staver said Monday. “This is important so that travelers may reach Rochester — but also has other benefits, such as Rochester being able to serve as a backup to [Minneapolis-St. Paul] airport.”

Staver, who made a point to bring the topic up with Governor-elect Tim Walz during an event Friday at City Hall, said the planned improvements to the airport would also have an economic impact.

He noted that Mayo Medical Laboratories, which receives regular shipments from FedEx, currently has 50,000 specimens spoiled annually due to aircraft not being able to land in Rochester. It is estimated that flight diversions cost MML and FedEx an average of more than $700,000 a year.

The proposed improvements to the runway are the latest attempt to modernize the city-owned airport. Earlier this year, RST completed a $12 million renovation that included an enhanced customs area. The project — which largely relied on federal and municipal funding — was necessary for RST to maintain its status as an international airport.

Other legislative priorities

The city is also seeking funding for two parks-related projects:

  • $1.5 million for the Willow Creek/Gamehaven Regional Trail Connection Project. According to the city, funding would be utilized to secure easement rights, and develop a paved trail linking the Rochester regional trail to Gamehaven Regional Park. The project would also provide linkage to the Bluestem Trail being developed to the south.

  • $2.75 for Cascade Lake Regional Park Improvements. The funding would be used to provide infrastructure for major event activities at the park.

Additionally, the city is asking the Legislature to remove the surcharge the state puts on parking tickets and to provide funding for the city to improve water treatment facilities to meet new regulatory standards.

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