The trip may take a while, but Pine Bluff Grider Field Airport is literally on the road to a safer future.
With its roots dating back more than seven decades to its start as a World War II-era flight school, the 850-acre airport has been undergoing an extensive renovation in recent years, thanks in large part to several million dollars in state and federal grants. Work on apron improvements is slated to begin this month, complementing a complete remodeling of the recently rededicated terminal building.
But for unknown reasons, there’s apparently been little if any focus by previous airport overseers on construction of a dependable roadway around the facility.
With the support of the Pine Bluff Aviation Commission, Airport Manager Doug Hale has jumped into the driver’s seat behind an effort to obtain grant funding to construct a modern roadway in phases. The effort is off to a promising start.
The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved the city’s participation in a “90/10” Arkansas Department of Aeronautics grant agreement earmarked for improvements to an existing roadway between a pair of primary airport hangars. The city will provide up to $10,000 in the arrangement, with ADA supplying the remainder of an amount not to exceed $99,102.75.
Hale said the current roadway is in such disrepair that it might be considered hazardous, especially with it often being utilized by fuel trucks. Hale describes the thoroughfare as a mixture of dirt, gravel, rocks, chunks of asphalt and other material.
“It borders on being unsafe,” he told the council’s traffic and aviation commission before the panel unanimously forwarded his funding request to the full panel with a do-pass recommendation. “It hasn’t been updated since World War II and needs to be able to support emergency traffic if that ever becomes necessary.”
Similar road work is needed throughout the area surrounding the airport’s working area, Hale said.
“We should have a quality emergency access road,” he said. “We’ve presently got a passageway in some sports that isn’t wide enough for a firetruck, let alone two-lane automobile traffic. That’s not good enough if we expect the airport to continue growing and helping to produce more revenue for the city and county.”
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and the council apparently agree.
Alderman Glen Brown, who chairs the council’s traffic and aviation commission, smiled and nodded his head in approval as Hale illustrated the airport’s desires and particulars of the grant possibility. Aldermen Charles Boyd and Steven Mays, who round out the panel, also voiced endorsements. The three praised Hale for his efforts and vision.
Hollingsworth said that anytime the city can net $100,000 worth of improvements for a $10,000 investment, it should.
Hale said Thursday that he’s uncertain how long a process might be in piecing together a reliable roadway, but he’s confident that the best time to the endeavor is “right now.”