Airport tunnel to open, first in state


HUNTINGBURG — The first airport tunnel in the state will open Monday.

Huntingburg Airport will open the tunnel, which is part of its runway expansion project, with a ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday at the south end of the tunnel near county roads 200 West and 900 South.

“We are thankful for our partnership with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) to see this project fulfilled,” Airport Manager Travis McQueen said in a press release about the opening. “Our main goal is always serving our regional aviation needs better, and this is a great step.”

The overall project consists of a $13.1 million dollar expansion of the runway to allow service to larger aircraft. It is 90% funded by the FAA. Airport officials have been planning for more than 10 years to make the airport’s runway longer and wider. The airport needed funding from the FAA and INDOT to make it happen.

In April 2019, the Dubois County Airport Authority learned that the FAA and INDOT had designated in their budgets funding for the extension project, which meant a grant application could start to be prepared and a contractor could be sought for the project. In July, Weddle Brothers Construction of Evansville was selected by the board; the company’s bid was submitted to the FAA on the airport’s grant application.

The $7 million needed for the project finally came through last fall. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the federal award of $5.97 million; INDOT and local funding covered the rest.

The federal funding covers lowering County Road 200 West, constructing a 180-foot tunnel over the road near the end of the new runway, moving about 270,000 cubic yards of dirt to the end of runway to fill in where the 500-foot extension will be located, reconstructing 700 feet of existing runway, and taking care of utility work.

Weddle Brothers started working at the site near 200 West in January.

The tunnel was constructed in St. Louis and brought to the county in pieces this past spring.

After the tunnel is open, the next step is to move dirt to build the grades for the end of the future runway, McQueen told The Herald Thursday afternoon. “That’s the next focus, although it has already started,” he said. “They’ve been working on that for the last two, three, four weeks.”

The goal is to get that work done as quickly as possible.

“When you get into November, you start losing [work] days to move dirt, because it’s too wet. So we’re pushing to get the dirt moved before November-ish,” McQueen said. “You move the dirt and let it settle, and see in the spring what needs to be modified.”

The newly packed dirt needs to be settled before the work of extending and widening the runway can start.

Work to lengthen and widen the runway will happen next year. The runway will be closed for about three months so that all the work can be completed. “We want to do that all at once,” McQueen said.

A longer runway allows planes to carry more weight. When a plane flies out of Huntingburg, it’s usually the fuel, not the passengers or luggage, that gets sacrificed for weight reasons. With less fuel, a plane might need to land more frequently to refuel, a possible burden when executives need to travel quickly. By extending the runway, the airport becomes more attractive to customers.

Plus, current airport corporate tenants — Kimball, OFS Brands, Jasper Engines, Best Chairs and MasterBrand — will be able to carry more people, baggage and fuel; that will give them the ability to fly further, more safely and more economically.

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