HONOLULU — The state Department of Transportation is studying different plans to comprehensively rebuild Kahului Airport’s aging main runway, which was built in 1942.
The runway was constructed during World War II to support military aircraft, long before the era of jumbo jets.
“Over the years, as the aircrafts have become larger, and as Maui has grown and there’s more airlift in and out of Maui, that the wear and tear has kind of taken its toll,” said State Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who represents Kahului and Wailuku in the State Senate.
The state spent $3.4 million repaving the main runway on Maui in 2006 and another $1.3 million since in maintenance and repairs.
“The amount of money that we’ve needed to maintain that runway has slowly been increasing. And so we recognize the situation,” said Dan Meisenzahl, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
The Federal Aviation Administration has told the state that the Band-Aid approach won’t work anymore. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the FAA notified the state, saying, “We consider this type of repair to be maintenance and it is not eligible for federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding.”
But, Gregor said, the feds could pay up to 75 percent of the cost of a comprehensive rebuilding of the runway.
The state is looking at a number of options, the least popular of which would be to close down the main runway for a month or so, to repave it, Meisenzahl said.
“We wouldn’t want to shut down the airport for any period of time, because it would have a significant impact on the economy — not just the visitor industry, but for businesses, residents as well,” Tsutsui said.
Another option is extending the airport’s second, shorter runway so it could be used while the longer runway is completely redone, perhaps in more expensive but longer- lasting concrete, instead of asphalt.
“If we do do the concrete option, it’s something that wouldn’t have to touch, probably for 20 or 30 years, whereas asphalt, the life of asphalt isn’t quite as long,” Meisenzahl said.
Starting next year, the state will take its plans to the public to get input about what’s the best way to proceed.
“We want to start the process now, make sure everyone understands what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and get that ball rolling, so 10 years from now, when this does become a situation where it could become critical, we’ve already dealt with it,” said Meisenzahl. “We want to make sure that whatever we do there has a minimal impact to the people of Maui and to the county of Maui’s economy.”
The state will probably have to complete an environmental assessment or a more detailed environmental impact statement, depending on exactly what the project entails, Meisenzahl said.
Construction probably won’t begin for another year or two and could cost about $130 million.