By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 5:58 PM
The Federal Aviation Administration, after reviewing concerns about a project at a regional airport named after Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), has decided to go forward with plans to use $800,000 in stimulus funds to repave the airport's alternate runway.
Late this afternoon, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation confirmed that the department had completed its review and would be releasing the funds for the Johnstown, Pa., airport project.
DOT spokesperson Jill Zuckman said the review was undertaken after a "senior policy" official at DOT decided he wanted to reconsider the project, but she declined to identify who that was or detail the reason for the reconsideration. She said the runway's concrete hasn't been replaced in many years and is in need of repaving.
"The bottom line is it deserved the money based on the merits," Zuckman said. "It's not an earmark."
The FAA had notified the John P. Murtha-Johnstown airport authority that the project was under review, and authority board members said press reports about other federal funding steered to the quiet regional airport was leading the FAA to reconsider the repaving project.
The Washington Post reported last month on more than $150 million in federal funds that Murtha directed to the airport, which has six arriving and departing flights per day. Among the improvements, Murtha directed the Pentagon to give the airport a new, $8 million, state-of-the-art radar tower that has not been used since it was built in 2004, and $30 million for a new runway and tarmac so the airport could handle large military planes and become an emergency military base in case of crisis.
Other news outlets, including CNN and ABC News, subsequently visited the airport and reported on the sleepy terminal and its gleaming federal buildings paid for by federal taxpayers.
Airport Manager Scott Voelker said he wrote to FAA officials urging the Obama administration to proceed with plans to underwrite the repaving work. The Post had reported that the airport has been losing passengers each year but was among the first four in the country that the FAA announced would receive stimulus funds.
"They say they're dotting their i's and crossing their t's," Voelker said. "But Mr. Murtha had nothing to do with the stimulus money."
Voelker said the runway is "critical" to Johnstown aircraft because the mountaintop airport is battered by strong winds and needs an alternate landing option for crosswinds.
Voelker said aircraft use the second runway for 40 percent of their landings and takeoffs due to the heavy crosswinds.