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Dignitaries Dedicate Airport Safety Improvements

Runway overrun areas cap airfield construction project. Next up: A new terminal.

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It was decades in the making, but the aggravation of the arduous Santa Barbara Airport safety improvement project was all smoothed over like a newly paved runway Thursday.

Dozens of dignitaries descended on the Signature Flight Support hangar for a briefing by airport director Karen Ramsdell, a catered luncheon, and a perimeter tour of the airport and its $35 million airfield safety projects. The Federal Aviation Administration-required upgrades were completed just last month after three years of construction.

That was the easy part.

What preceded the construction was more than 20 years of planning and environmental review that eventually required approvals from 19 different governmental agencies. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the 1,000-acre airport is flanked by urban areas and a major university and it sits in the middle of what amounts to one sprawling wetland hard by the Goleta Slough.

The safety renovations mandated by the FAA included 1,000-foot overrun areas at each end of the main runway, new runway markings and a new taxiway. While the overrun areas did not change the runway’s 6,052-foot length, its position was shifted 800 feet to the west to accommodate the extra space.

Carneros and Tecolotito creeks were rerouted to accommodate the shift — a move that paid off when a corporate jet malfunctioned on takeoff last year and skidded to a halt more than 400 feet beyond the runway. The $30 million aircraft and its passengers and crew traveled well beyond where Tecolotito Creek had previously crossed the area.

Meanwhile, extensive environmental mitigation efforts were undertaken that led to the creation of new creek habitat and wetlands, the restoration of native plants, and a long-range plan to enhance the Goleta Slough’s ecosystem.

Once aboard two Santa Barbara Airbus mini-coaches, Ramsdell and assistant director Hazel Johns proudly narrated the airfield tour, which ended with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting near the runway’s west end. Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum did the honors, assisted by Councilwomen Iya Falcone and Helene Schneider. Other officials participating in the day’s festivities were Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett and Council members Roger Aceves, Jean Blois and Eric Onnen; Santa Barbara Councilmen Roger Horton and Grant House; Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong; Goleta Union School District Superintendent Kathy Boomer; and FAA regional director George Aiken and his senior staff.

The safety project’s completion won’t mean the end of construction any time soon. Within a few years, nearly 1 million passengers a year are expected to fly in and out of the airport. To meet their needs, an expanded airline terminal project will break ground later this year that includes a new, 6,000-square-foot, two-story terminal; the relocation and rehabilitation of the iconic existing terminal built in the early 1940s; a reconfigured short-term parking lot; and a new terminal loop road.

Click here for more information on the Santa Barbara Airport. Click here for more information on the airline terminal project.

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