The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s plans for redevelopment that include a new, longer runway, new boarding gates and a new rental car center in walking distance of the terminals.
The RDU Airport Authority board approved its 25-year master plan more than a year ago, but needed the FAA’s blessing before it could begin to carry out some of its major components. That approval came in the form of a letter that was shared with RDU board members on Thursday.
“We’re very excited by this, because this is the green light,” said spokeswoman Kristie VanAuken.
VanAuken said the environmental studies for the new 11,500-foot runway would begin soon. It will be built parallel to the current 10,000-foot runway on the western side of the airport and will help the airport attract more long-distance flights, including perhaps nonstops to China, airport officials say. Michael Landguth, the airport’s president, said Thursday that he expects RDU could get a nonstop to China within five to seven years.
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The current runway, which is nearing the end of its expected lifespan, will become a taxiway.
Planning work has also begun on a new rental car center, to be built just north of the airport’s parking garage, between Terminals 1 and 2. It would replace a series of rental car lots on the south end of the airport that travelers can only reach from the terminals on shuttle buses and vans.
The master plan also calls for new ground transportation centers in front of each terminal and the addition of as many as 23 new gates, mostly by extending Terminal 2. The addition of those gates would depend on demand, VanAuken said, and there are no current plans to build them.
While the runway could take as long as seven years to finish, travelers will begin noticing some of the related work as early as next month. Contractors will begin ripping up and replacing sections of the taxiway in front of Terminal 2. The project will be done in phases over the next two years and will require temporarily closing gates.
The master plan, which RDU called Vision 2040, took two years to complete and involved 10 public meetings. It drew criticism from cyclists and conservationists because it identified 105 acres of airport land near William B. Umstead State Park for future use as “industrial/quarry.”
This summer, a national environmental group, The Conservation Fund, offered to buy the land for $6.46 million. In September, the airport authority made the land available to lease and received offers from The Conservation Fund and Wake Stone Corp., which would like to expand its adjoining quarry operation. In the end, the airport authority rejected both offers, even as it agreed to lease 151 acres nearby to Wake County, which plans to make them available for hiking and mountain biking.