When Kansas Secretary of Transportation Mike King stood outside the Lyons/Rice County Airport on Wednesday afternoon, the plane that brought him to central Kansas was tellingly parked in McPherson.
King and other officials participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking for a runway expansion at the Lyons/Rice County Airport, just west of Lyons.
The airport’s runway is “a little short” for the twin-engine airplane, King said.
It’s also too short for a twin-engine ambulance airplane, and that’s one reason behind the overall $2.17 million airport improvement project.
King said a KDOT goal is to have about 90 percent living within a 30-minute drive of an airport that can accommodate a fixed-wing, twin-engine ambulance airplane. The airport’s current 3,000 linear-feet-long runway is too short for such an aircraft.
A helicopter can land to pick up a patient who needs treatment at a larger hospital, but “if you have more than one casualty, you really have a serious problem,” said Lyons City Administrator John Sweet.
The airport is a city-county partnership, and the runway expansion is part of the Airport Master Plan from 1998. The project will:
Extend the runway to about 4,400 linear feet;
Install precision approach path indicators and runway end identifier lights, and replace the beacon.
“We invest $1 billion annually in infrastructure,” said KDOT’s King, and most of that goes to roads and bridges. Airports are sometimes forgotten assets, he said, but they play a larger role in rural Kansas.
Rice County Economic Development Director Jill Nichols noted the improvements will help agriculture, the “flourishing manufacturing base” in Rice County and small businesses.
Rice County Commissioner Derek McCloud supported the project partly because it made financial sense to him and there are a lot of businesses that could use it, he said.
The project manager is Kirkham Michael, Ellsworth, and the general contractor is Smoky Hill LLC, Salina. The runway will be closed during construction, but the airport has a turf runway, Sweet said.
Sweet indicated Lyons and Rice County aren’t finished in their search for outside funds for airport improvements. They also are working with KDOT to obtain an automated weather observing system, according to the groundbreaking announcement.