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BENNINGTON — A $4 million reconstruction of the Bennington airport runway is now set to begin April 30 and should be completed by July 30, state officials said.

The project timeframe, which members of the Bennington Airport Development Corp. had sought since last year, is important because the 3,704-foot runway at William H. Morse State Airport will be closed for the duration. That will require that businesses and groups with facilities at the airport arrange for alternative sites if needed during the construction period.

At a meeting Friday at the airport, Josh Martin, the project manager for VTrans; Paul Libby, senior project manager with the state Rail and Aviation Bureau; Christopher Beitzel, aviation program southern region manager, and other officials briefed locals on details of the project.

"Right now, the anticipated shutdown date for the runway will be April 30," Martin said. "That will be the start for a 90-day shutdown."

The reopening of the runway is therefore estimated to occur in late July, Martin said, but he cautioned that weather over the coming months could affect that schedule.

A start in March was the goal cited in the fall, and more recently Bennington Airport Development Corp. members said they had heard April 2 was the start date. However, John Likakis and other members of the nonprofit group, which acts as the airport management entity, said they first learned at the Friday meeting of the new start date.

"We have tried to move it as far forward as we can, but we have run into some issues," Martin said.

Among those, he said, was confusion over a new Agency of Natural Resources system for posting aspects of stormwater management permitting on the agency website. VTrans officials thought a required 30-day public comment period had been accounted for, Martin said, but "that was not actually the case. So that is what is pushing it out."     

But Martin said the contractor, Markowski Excavating Inc., of Florence, intends to work simultaneously on both the runway and a taxiway to run parallel to it, rather than follow a previous plan calling for work on the taxiway to be completed afterward.

The 35-foot-wide taxi strip is designed to allow landing aircraft to immediately turn off the 75-foot-wide runway, and it allows pilots preparing for takeoff a space that is off the runway surface, keeping that open for other craft.

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In answer to a question from Likakis, the VTrans aviation officials said there will be access to hangers and other buildings at the airport during construction.

Likakis also asked about the planned route for construction vehicles to the airport on Walloomsac Road, saying he had heard concerns voiced by residents over traffic and possible damage to the road surface.

The state officials said the planned route for those vehicles, which was worked out in cooperation with town officials, will be from Route 9 West to the airport entrance drive.

Markowski Excavating, which won the contract after submitting the low bid of just over $3.91 million, has experience with major airport construction projects, including a similar one last year at the Rutland airport, officials said.

State officials also said that a right-of-way issue concerning 2.5 acres required for work at one end of the runway, which last year delayed the setting of a construction schedule until an agreement was signed in Probate Court, has now been resolved.

VTrans officials also have said the state will consider waiving hangar rental fees for businesses or organizations during the construction period and will assist businesses wishing to operate from one of the other nine state airports.

Work will include reconstructing the runway down to its base, replacing the runway lighting system, extending a cleared safety zone by 100 feet at one end, and the first phase of a project to create a parallel taxiway along the entire runway.

The runway was constructed in 1982, and both the runway surface and the takeoff/landing lighting system are near the end of their life spans, officials have said.

The Vermont AOT has said that $3.5 million in funding through the Federal Aviation Administration was approved for the Bennington project. The state will fund 10 percent of the cost.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and Email: @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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