XNA recommends access road study, discusses terminal renovation

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,449 views 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) officials want to take a new approach to the airport access road that has been studied for more than 12 years to improve access to the airport from Interstate 49.

On Wednesday (April 4), members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority recommended a $600,000 study that would take into account a road as not just an access road to the airport but also a road that would offer a broader benefit to the highway system in Northwest Arkansas. Once underway, the study would take about four months to complete, and would be submitted to the Arkansas Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration for approval before such a project would move forward.

Aspects of the study would include looking at existing highways between I-49 and the airport and determining whether improving those highways would be a better solution to improving access to the airport than building a new road. Alternatives to an access road include a road to the airport that would serve the broader purpose than only an access road; widening Arkansas Highway 264, from the airport to I-49; and widening highways 264 and 112 to the interchange with the Highway 412 bypass, which is under construction between I-49 and Highway 112. The study would use existing traffic data and determine how the proposed improvements would impact existing roads.

CEO Scott Van Laningham said he expects the study would show the access road would be the most viable option to improve airport access. In 2006, the plan for the access road was to run eight miles from the interstate to the south entrance of XNA on Highway 264. Since then, the plan has changed to a four-mile road, stemming from the Highway 412 bypass. The road’s intersection with the bypass would be about a mile west from the Highway 112 interchange of the new bypass. The highway department previously proposed to build the one-mile section to the road, leaving about three miles of new road for which the airport would need to determine a funding source.

But before work could start, the highway department would need to reach a decision on the purpose and need study, which it had requested to be completed. Ryk Dunkelberg, planning and environmental national practice leader and vice president of aviation services for Mead & Hunt, said a decision would likely be reached in more than a year after the study is completed. Dunkelberg, whose company identified the land on which XNA was built, said the need for the road must be determined before its purpose.

The $600,000 study included about $450,000 already budgeted for the access road project. On April 11, the XNA board is expected to vote on whether to allocate an additional $150,000 for the study as recommended April 4. Van Laningham said the funding is grant eligible. The study would be completed by engineering firm CH2M Hill and planning consultant Mead & Hunt.

XNA board members also discussed the project to renovate the airport’s terminal. Airport Director Kelly Johnson said she believes the Federal Aviation Administration would pay for 90% of the first phase of the project, which includes the work within the existing terminal. It would include the replacement of the elevators and escalators and the platform that would connect the terminal to the sky bridge, leading to the parking deck.

Also, the plan to complete the project with the delivery method “construction manager at risk” (CMAR) is still on the table. The airport expects to seek proposals from construction managers soon.

XNA board member Mike Johnson explained the benefit of the construction manager at risk approach as opposed to taking the project to bid is the construction manager starts on the project from the beginning. Before going with this approach, the airport wants to make sure the FAA is OK with it first. XNA board member Stan Green said the airport needs to determine how much funding it will receive on the project to know how much it will spend on it.

On April 11, the XNA board is expected to vote on whether to hire Hight Jackson Associates of Rogers to design the terminal renovation project. A design contract isn’t expected to come to a vote until June 20. Hight Jackson plans to work with designer RS&H, Garver Engineering, Terracon and Connico on the project.