Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of John Porcari, the U.S. deputy secretary of transportation.

Stimulus funds for BWI projects help to keep workers employed

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010

Keith Jones, a project manager for Baltimore-based P. Flanigan & Sons, watched Thursday as his construction crew at one end of the parking lot apron at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport worked on a new underground system that collects de-icing fluid from planes.

At the other end, a worker operating a bulldozer ripped up 30-year-old asphalt that will be replaced with concrete pavement.

Jones said he's hired about 50 workers to do the safety upgrades and reconstruction of the aircraft parking apron between two concourses at BWI.

"They appreciate to have the job," Jones said of his employees, which included about a half-dozen college students during the summer.

The workers and their efforts were on display Thursday as federal officials toured the BWI construction site, part of the government's effort to create jobs in an ailing economy with its massive economic stimulus package passed last year.

The stimulus, estimated now at $814 billion, has been controversial for the Obama administration. Some have called for more recovery funds, saying the package was too small, while many Republicans criticize the rising debt. Meanwhile, signs indicate that the economy, after inching toward recovery, is rapidly deteriorating. New unemployment numbers are due Friday morning.

BWI received $15 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one of the largest grants awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The rest of the $41 million BWI project, which is scheduled to be finished next summer, is being paid for by the airport's Passenger Facility Charge and the FAA's Airport Improvement Program.

"Not only are we keeping Marylanders at work, we are also improving airport safety and efficiency," said John Porcari, the U.S. deputy secretary of transportation.

The workers are replacing 630,000 square feet of surface, the size of about 11 football fields. The project also involves replacing underground utilities, including water, natural gas and eight miles of communication cables. Airport officials said some of the utility infrastructure dates to 1950, during the original construction. Nationally, $1.3 billion in stimulus money is being used for airport improvement projects and air traffic control facility and system upgrades. Other airports in the Washington area have received $35 million to upgrade airport runways and aircraft parking aprons.

Officials estimated that the money would pay for 300 projects across the country. But because bids came in lower than expected, the grants are funding 360 projects, Porcari said.

In Maryland, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) said state officials estimated that about 200 jobs will be created once construction is completed at BWI.

Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator and a former professional pilot, joined Porcari and Ruppersberger on the tour. In the past 20 years, the FAA has given $192 million to BWI through its Airport Improvement Program.

Babbitt, who used to fly for Eastern Airlines, said it was good to be home. He made his final landing at the airport.

"This is like old home week for many of us," he said as he introduced Porcari, who served as the Maryland secretary of transportation before taking his federal position last year.

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