Air apparent

Q: Dear Ace, what is going on south of the airport on Earlysville Road? More runways? And there’s a lovely tree with a fence around it, so whatever is happening, I assume the tree stays. Thanks for any info.—Anne Arbor

A: While business at the Charlottesville- Albemarle Airport has certainly taken off since it was first built in 1955, Anne, the answer to your question is: No, the airport folks are not adding runways at this time. They’re just trying to keep The Man off their backs.

Airport Executive Director Bryan Elliott explains that the project in question is to bring the airport up to code with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines requiring safety areas off the ends of runways. The requirements, revised about 15 years ago, Elliott says, call for an additional 1,000 feet of space to be cleared at the ends of landing strips, 500 feet in width. It’s all just in case something goes wrong with an aircraft overshooting its target, to make sure it can’t cause any real damage to people or property.

Trouble is, right now State Route 606 winds through the space in question. That’s what they’re trying to fix. The project will relocate the intersection of 606 and State Route 743 about 825 feet to the south of the required area, Elliot says. Once that’s completed—sometime around summer 2005, Elliott figures—additional sections of 743 will get a similar treatment.

As to the second part of your question, give yourself some credit for your eagle eyes—there is indeed a tree fenced off in the workzone that Elliott says has been deigned off-limits to construction guys and their machinery. In a turn sure to make nature lovers warm and fuzzy, Elliott says surveyors discovered the flora in question was one of the oldest known oak trees on the East Coast—although he couldn’t give Ace exact details on its age. Ace would suggest cutting it down to count the rings, but realizes that’d kind of defeat the purpose.

And as if the 606/743 revamps didn’t provide enough construction fun, the Virginia Department of Transportation has scheduled another overhaul to the airport-adjacent roadways in the near future. VDOT apparently wised up to the fact that traffic between 29N and the ‘port on Route 649 has gotten awfully heavy of late, and the State plans starting late this summer to turn it into a four-lane road. The project should be completed about a year after that and should include a new complementary traffic roundabout at the airport.

Yes, yes—safety, better roads—it’s all very good. You may now return to your in-flight movie.

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