Tweed expansion on schedule

Tweed construction is set to be completed within six to 12 months.
Tweed construction is set to be completed within six to 12 months. Photo by Shahla N..

The planned $26 million expansion of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport will be ready as early as next April, Tweed executive director Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00 said Wednesday. But, because of a new law, that will be the end of it.

Volchek said the Tweed construction, which includes the addition of two safety zones along both sides of the main runway, is on schedule to be completed within six to 12 months. After that, Tweed officials, as well as New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon, will attempt to woo four to five airplane carriers to fly in and out of Tweed over the next few years. Currently, only U.S. Airways serves the airport.

But the expansion will stop there. Following the terms of a March agreement forged between DeStefano and Capone Almon, who opposed Tweed’s expansion, state legislators passed a new state law that went into effect this week to limit the airport’s runway length to its current 5,600 feet, ensuring it will stay a “regional airport,” said East Haven state Rep. Mike Lawlor.

“There was a meeting of the minds with [the] mayors listening to each other and saying, ‘These are our concerns, these are our desires and this is what we feel comfortable with,’ ” Lawlor said.

Lawlor said the law limits airport service to 180,000 passengers per year, 30 departures per day, six commercial service counters and 700 parking spaces. The limits allow for some expansion; currently at Tweed, there are 135,000 passengers per year, about four to five departures per day (all aboard U.S. Airways), one commercial service counter and 700 parking spaces.

The law also adds a 15th member to the Tweed Airport Authority, the volunteer committee in charge of the airport. New Haven will now hold eight seats, down from nine, on the board, and East Haven will have five seats, up from two. The law also allows East Haven residents to veto airport plans, Capone Almon said.

Now that the resolution is cemented into state law, the restrictions are enforceable, Lawlor said.

The state legislation comes after four decades of clashes between New Haven and East Haven officials. Capone Almon maintained for years that the airport was noisy and that its expansion would reduce the quality of life of East Haven residents.

In an interview Wednesday, Capone Almon recalled the tense relationship between the airport and her family. When her grandparents bought a house near Tweed’s runway, Capone Almon said, neighbors told them not to “get too comfortable, because the airport will take [their] homes.”

“The house is still there,” she said, proudly.

In response to Capone Almon’s concerns, Volchek said the expansion will not heavily disturb neighbors.

“A few hundred [cars] isn’t going to make a big difference because there are thousands living there [already] commuting,” he said.

Volchek said the resolution shows more cooperation between the two cities instead of them “arguing and pursuing lawsuits.”

City officials — including City Hall’s liaison to Tweed expansion affairs, traffic director Michael Piscitelli — did not return requests for comment left on their office phones Wednesday. In the past, DeStefano has praised the agreement for stimulating the local economy.

The airport may help Yale as well by providing a landing space for its business executives and commercial investors. Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said in February, “We have regularly committed our support for Tweed to the State government and will continue to join with other stakeholders in pushing for an improved Tweed that brings it back to a level of scheduled service it enjoyed in the past.”

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