State board hears pitch for PTI, aviation spending

GREENSBORO — Airports are a great economic development vehicle and, oh, by the way, Piedmont Triad International Airport is a sterling example of that, PTI officials told the state Board of Transportation here Wednesday in an afternoon meeting.

The board that controls billions of dollars in road, rail and aviation money is holding its August meeting in Greensboro this week, and the 19-member panel got a pitch for continued support from airport director Kevin Baker and Piedmont Triad Airport Authority chairman Steve Showfety.

Baker thanked the board for approving $4 million to grade a piece of vacant airport land that was snagged quickly by HAECO, the aircraft maintenance and engineering company now building a hangar worth many millions more on that site.

“We’re getting a $60 million investment on top of that,” Baker said of the state’s feeder money, noting that airport projects frequently provide such lucrative returns.

He added that a taxiway bridge built as part of recently completed Interstate 73 from PTI to U.S. 220 will open up new tracts for similar, potential gains. But he said grading one such major piece of land could cost $75 million.

The state board stopped at PTI for lunch Wednesday and a 90-minute business session on the opening day of its two-day meeting. Board members also toured the High Point Furniture Market, Pomona Quarry, Honda Aircraft and other parts of PTI on Wednesday.

The board met locally because chairman Mike Fox, a Greensboro resident, wanted to revive the panel’s former practice of holding several meetings each year outside its normal Raleigh venue and suggested starting in his hometown.

In other action Wednesday, the board heard a consultant’s preliminary report about options to improve the troubled public-private partnership behind Charlotte’s Interstate 77 toll lanes project.

And state Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon reported that transportation and utility officials had worked together on a new, overhead power line to the Outer Banks that soon should restore service to the area, partly evacuated last week after a contractor accidentally severed underground electrical lines serving the islands.

In his remarks, PTI leader Showfety told the board the airport is blazing a new trail by combining convenient passenger air service with an economic development role aimed at growing the regional aviation industry and “providing another impetus for quality jobs in the Piedmont Triad.”

HAECO chief executive Richard Kendall drove home the point by telling the group about his company’s planned addition of 500 jobs linked to its fifth PTI hangar, now under construction, plus new company facilities in High Point to make furnishings used in refitting aircraft interiors.

Fox said that after he was named chairman of the transportation board this year he urged renewing the group’s past practice of holding several monthly meetings each year outside the state capital.

The board drifted away from that policy in recent years but Fox, a local attorney who served previously on the board, said he always found it helpful in improving his knowledge of the differing transportation needs from region to region. And it gave local officials better insight into how the state Department of Transportation functions and the issues state leaders face, he said.

“It was such a good learning experience on all sides,” Fox said. “The interaction really proved valuable.”

The board reconvenes this morning for a daylong meeting at the O. Henry Hotel on Green Valley Road to award contracts and hear presentations from local and regional officials about their areas’ transportation needs.

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