LOVINGTON — At a total cost of about $7.4 million, a runway at the Lea County Regional Airport near Hobbs will be extended by 600 feet for safety and operations.
In a recent presentation to the Lea County Commission, Assistant County Manager Corey Needham noted most of that cost — more than $7.1 million — is coming in a grant from the Federal Aviation Agency.
“They’re going to cover 93 percent of it. The state’s going to cover approximately 4 percent of it and then we’ll be on the hook for approximately 3 percent of it,” Needham said. That’s about $220,000 from the county’s budget.
Summer hot weather played a big part in the decision the runway designated RW-03/21 needs to be extended, Needham explained to the News-Sun.
“The commercial aircraft and large corporate aircraft that use the Lea County Regional Airport run into what’s called density altitude problems during the heat of the summer,” Needham said. “At times, we have to restrict the number of passengers or weight for either the commercial aircraft or the large corporate aircraft for them to have the required amount of runway.”
The air becomes thinner as it heats up which causes issues for aircraft, Needham said was explained in a Flight Safety Foundation article. Engine performance, reduced thrust and lift are all affected by fewer air molecules, the airplane safety group noted.
“High density altitude creates two significant effects on takeoffs,” the article stated. “First, it takes longer for an aircraft to become airborne. In the worst case scenario, an airplane pilot can run out of runway before the plane lifts off, which can lead to a runway excursion.”
Needham concluded, “By extending the runway, we can make sure we can get full loads and it gives us an opportunity to have different aircraft in the future that may take more runway.”
Safety concerns at a separate runway at the Lea County Regional Airport recently were resolved when, for $1.5 million, a drainage ditch cover and fence relocation earned the engineering company Moltzen Corbin the 2021 Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies.
A 663-foot-long arch pipe measuring 26 feet wide and eight feet tall, allows necessary drainage while making the runway safety area safer.
The FAA funded almost 94 percent of the costs with the New Mexico Department of Transportation Aviation Division and the county splitting the remainder.
“This flattens the ground so if an airplane does leave the runway, they overshoot it a little bit, now they’re running on flat ground rather than into a ditch,” Needham said. The construction contractor was J&H Services of Albuquerque.
With three airports and 1,200 miles of roadways to maintain and upgrade, Lea County commissioners heard Needham recount several current projects and plans for the next few months, in addition to the runway safety issues.
Other airport projects under construction or contract include replacing Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPI) at the Zip Franklin Memorial Airport in Lovington and the PAPIs at the Jal-Lea County Airport. Total cost for those projects is about $391,000.
Meanwhile, contracted for a little more than $550,000, the Lea County Regional Airport parking lot, terminal landscaping and irrigation project is about 50 percent complete while adding special coating to the roof of the older portion of the terminal will be just under $36,000.
A new water line from the Hobbs municipal water system to the airport is complete up to the airport connections, Needham told the commissioners, at a construction cost to Lea County of $600,000.
“We’re running some pressure tests, some chlorination tests over the next couple of weeks to make sure we don’t have to have a portion of our pump system still in place,” Needham said, noting the connection should be finalized in the next month or so.
Updates to the master plans for the Jal and Lovington airports are under way at an approximate cost of $191,000.
“We’ve been fairly competitive on our federal grants from the FAA, I think, largely because of the masterplan projects,” Needham said. “We go in every 10 years with a full masterplan and every five years with an update. We’re able to show our FAA partners this is what we have coming up this year, all the way up to 10 years. This is our justifiable needs. Then, we can start putting some money back for some of our large projects in anticipation of upcoming work.”
New generators to replace 70-year-old equipment at the Hobbs airport also are in the works, at a cost of almost $270,000, to be installed in about seven months, Needham said.
Light replacement at Runway 12-30 at the Lovington airport is under design with a planning cost of $90,000 and an estimated construction cost of $696,000.
The biggest roadway project for the county is widening and paving Teague Switch Road in southern Lea County.
Currently at the 50 percent design stage, the county officials anticipate all of the $5.2 million cost for the 10-mile stretch of highway will come from the county’s road funds.
Turning to ongoing or recently completed roadway projects, Needham said the Kansas Roadway widening and overlay cost the county just over $2.5 million in the last year and is nearing completion.
“We’re right at the very end of that project. It started as a much smaller project,” Needham said, noting drainage issues resolved. “We went from a 24-foot wide roadway to a 32-foot wide roadway with protected shoulders.”
Meanwhile, Stanolind Roadway’s widening and overlay from the Texas state line to the Prairie Haven Cemetery at the Hobbs city limits increased that road width from 23 feet to 30 feet at a cost just over $900,000.
Commissioner Jonathan Sena interjected, “I’m always grateful for that. People want better roads. It’s in my district where they need it. I’m grateful for what you’re doing.”
In Lovington, the Commercial Street overlay recently was completed at county cost of $249,000.
Overlay and widening of Battle-Ax Road at a cost of just under $1 million, residential micro seal work at a cost of $625,000 and county maintenance chip seal at a cost of $2.5 million rounded out the list of current road work activities.
Planned road work with estimated costs include the Sanger and Landfill roadways intersection at an estimated $700,000, the Landfill Road drainage project at $1.1 million, Alabama Street overlay and widening at $2.7 million, Wyoming Street and intersection reconstruction at $900,000.
Additional county road funds will be spent rebidding an asphalt emulsion contract and annual roadway maintenance and construction contract costing from $4-8 million, Needham concluded.