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Our View: Airport decision wise

Although Routt County isn’t in a position to be squandering money, deciding to go over budget to continue improvements at its airport was the right choice.

Faced with only one construction bid that was almost $2 million higher than the county’s estimate, the county’s consultants negotiated with the contractor, and commissioners decided earlier this week to approve a contract for about $640,000 more than planned.

That’s a big chunk of money out of a budget that was lean to begin with: When Connell Resources’ original $9.4 million bid came in, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said it would be difficult to go even $200,000 higher than its $7.5 million estimate.

Nonetheless, a usually conservative board of commissioners decided to go for it. The board plans to increase certificates of participation and apply for state grants to make up the gap.

That is a wise move for several reasons:

Had the county opted to hold off on the project and rebid it next year, it would have faced a one-two punch: It would have jeopardized $5.4 million in federal grants this year and likely would have been forced to wait several years to again get that Federal Aviation Administration funding.

Equally important, had the county postponed the improvements, it would have dropped the ball on a larger, community-wide effort to expand air service to the Yampa Valley.

“This has become such a community project,” Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. “We have worked with the (Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.), the city and the airport commission to expand the terminal … and provide a better initial visitor experience. With a project of this magnitude, it’s important to move ahead.”

She and her fellow commissioners clearly understood a two-year delay would be far more costly than the $640,000.

Like the courthouse, Yampa Valley Regional Airport is one of the county’s most critical public facilities and one that is in need of improvement.

The work scheduled for this summer includes expanding the parking ramp for passenger jets, improving the parking facilities and building a new terminal access road. It is the outdoor half of the second phase of an ambitious, multiyear airport improvement plan.

The other half of the second phase, an expansion to the terminal building, already has been pushed to next summer because of delays in securing grants.

Delaying the improvements most noticeable to visitors is unfortunate. Delaying both components of the second phase would equate to a loss in momentum that we cannot afford.

Work on the airport needs to continue at, or close to, the pace set by the airport improvement plan just to keep up with the community’s efforts to expand jet service to YVRA. Last fall’s approval of a local marketing district established a dedicated revenue source for flight guarantees. For its part, the county needs to ensure we have an airport capable of handling more planes and passengers and doing it in a way that gives those visitors positive first and last impressions of the Yampa Valley.

By setting its airport improvement plan, successfully completing the first phase of improvements, and making the choice to move forward with work despite this recent challenge, the county is reaffirming its role as a strong partner in the flight program that is so crucial to Routt County’s economic vitality.