Less than 10 days after a judge declined to halt the project, construction began Wednesday (Feb. 18) at Taos Regional Airport on the first stage of a long-awaited expansion.
The airport is closed to fixed-wing aircraft for two weeks as crews shorten the existing runway and build a road for construction equipment. The airport remains open to helicopter traffic.
The project includes the construction of an 8,600-foot by 100-foot crosswind runway, the shortening of an existing runway by 420 feet, the construction of a new airport access road approximately 3,200 feet long and the extension of another airport access road by approximately 2,800 feet.
Most of the $24 million project is being funded with a federal grant. The town government, which owns and operates the airport, provided a match of approximately $1.4 million to secure funding.
Supporters say the expansion, which has been debated and studied for three decades, will improve safety at the airport and foster economic development in Taos.
The project has encountered opposition, however, from local residents concerned an expansion of the airport will increase pollution, affect property values in the surrounding area, lead to an increased military presence in Taos and worsen the economic gap between wealthy and poor.
A group of local residents challenged the project in a lawsuit filed last September against the town and county governments. The plaintiffs argued the construction of a second runway at the airport was moving forward before the area was properly zoned by county officials.
Attorneys representing the group, which included local author John Nichols, asked Eighth Judicial District Judge Jeff McElroy to issue an injunction halting work until the zoning process was completed.
McElroy rejected calls to halt the project in a letter filed Feb. 9.