PIA air traffic control tower project moves forward with grant approval
The process of replacing the aging air traffic control tower at Peoria International Airport with a more modern facility is moving along gradually.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria’s board formally ratified a previously announced $15 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for Phase One of the tower project.
“The grant paperwork was waiting for a bunch of things to get done,” said Director of Airports Gene Olson. “One of those was analysis of the historic preservation status of the old tower, because the ultimate plan involves demolishing that building.
“Since it's more than 50 years old, we had to go through a process of documenting whether it was or was not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. We did that analysis and documented that it's not eligible because of all the modifications that have happened to it over the years.”
The board also accepted an architect's fee proposal for some preliminary engineering work related to code compliance.
“All the designs for the tower were five years old, and building codes change, fire codes change,” said Olson. “So we had to revalidate the designs, and we're actually getting ready to start on a project to do some preliminary engineering to document that the designs are still good.”
The new tower will be located between the terminal and the Byerly Aviation building. Olson said they had to adjust the tower placement by 10 feet to clear sufficient air space for a recently added instrument landing system (ILS) approach that lowers altitude and visibility requirements for landing planes.
“We've already done some analysis, and we feel like that's not going to be a problem. But there's a thing called the Airway Facilities Tower Integration Lab (AFTIL) and in February they're going to take a look at it and revalidate the location of the tower as well,” said Olson.
Olson said the construction bidding process should begin once the design review is completed. He’s hoping they’re able to break ground on the project by this fall at the latest.
Olson said cost estimates project the initial $15 million will cover about half of the tower project. He said they’ve already submitted an application for another $15 million grant from the federal infrastructure funding to go toward Phase Two.
“We're kind of guessing a project of this complexity is going to be a year to two years to construct,” he said. “Then there's a period of time where you have to burn in all the systems and make sure that they're working before you can transfer people over from the old tower to the new tower. So we're thinking this is going to be somewhere between 2-4 years of construction and commissioning before the building is actually operational.”
Flock security cameras
The airport authority board also approved the purchase of two Flock Safety cameras with license plate reading technology (LPR) for use in the PIA parking lot.
“The location of the cameras has not been determined yet. I don't know that I would identify the location if we knew it, because that's — I don't want to say ‘classified information,’ but that's kind of what it is; you don't want to tell the bad guys exactly where your camera is,” said Olson.
“They're going to be strategically positioned so that we get pretty much information on all cars entering and leaving the airport.”
Olson said the purpose of the cameras is to address a recent spike in property crimes, particularly vehicle thefts and thefts of catalytic converters.
“We took the step of upgrading our camera coverage in the parking lot to the tune of around a quarter-million dollars,” said Olson. “We added a lot of cameras and a lot of capability to record (footage), and that's been providing evidence, but it's kind of reactive: we find out something happened and then we can go back and check the cameras to see what's gone on.
“The nice thing about the Flock system is that it gives you notification right away. If there's a license plate of interest that shows up at the airport, then all the police officers that are also subscribed to this system will instantly get notified. So, it's more of a proactive way of knowing that somebody that you're interested in is in the parking lot.”
Olson said the increase in car thefts has been particularly frustrating.
“Aside from rental cars that were rented under false pretenses with false paperwork or false credit cards, all of the thefts from our parking lot have been, believe it or not, from vehicles where people have left the car unlocked and have left their keys in the car,” he said. “So we've put up signage, saying, ‘lock your car, take your keys, hide your valuables.’ But we still see people who don't pay attention to that and have had their car stolen.”
Olson said the Flock cameras will provide another layer of security in the parking lot.
“Most of the time when somebody comes out to the airport to steal a car, they're doing it in a stolen car. So this will give us a little bit of advance notice instead of finding out about it after the fact,” he said. “Also, we're relying on our shuttle bus drivers and other passengers and airline staff and airport staff to tell us when they see something funny. A lot of times you'll see the people who are stealing cars are walking down the aisles pulling on door handles, and that's our big clue. Well, hopefully we'll catch them a little bit earlier now.”