After nearly two decades of debate, crews are finally digging to expand the South Runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The $791 million project will create more than 11,000 jobs during construction, will save airline time and cut down delays for passengers, airport officials said.
The Broward County Aviation Department will expand the South Runway from 100 feet wide to 150, and from 5,200 feet long to 8,000 in order to accommodate the growth of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport.
The construction is underway this month, but the runway will close in April until it is estimated to be complete in September 2014.
The mayor of Broward County, John E. Rodstrom, Jr., was joined by the Board of County Commissioners for the ceremony along with Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Frederica Wilson, United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration Michael Huerta, and the Florida Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Richard Biter.
Wasserman-Shultz pointed out that more than 600 flights pass through the airport every day and the facility is ranked 20th in the nation in passenger traffic. Approximately 22 million travelers use the airport annually.
LaHood said that at the height of the project, it will have "more than a million-dollar" local economical impact "each and every day," and that it's a "step towards economic recovery in South Florida."
LaHood added, it's "enabling people to have good-paying jobs."
“I think it’s great for jobs and the economy and all that,” said William Stark, a resident of Melaleuca Gardens who wishes the expansion never took off. “I can’t even imagine trying to sell somebody a house and it’s like just a plane roaring overhead. I can’t imagine having that conversation, ‘Oh yeah the house is soundproof, though’ you know. That’s a tough sell.”
Starks and some 850 homeowners have been offered some financial compensation and soundproofing of their homes, part of the airport' s pilot program, a $170 million noise mitigation program.
In addition, the airport has contributed $10 million to help fund habitat restoration at West Lake Park in Hollywood because of its close proximity to the airport.
The project is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Florida Department of Transportation, and Passenger Facility Charges.
Rodstrom hopped in an excavator and dug up the first pile of dirt to commence the start of construction.