Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"What we have here is a failure to communicate"

The Statesman-Journal editorial board looks peak oil and the airlines' meltdown in the eye and denies:

Airport projects will enhance local economy

Future growth warrants terminal, runway work

High fuel prices are forcing airlines to cut back services and charge more. Delta has trimmed its SkyWest Airlines flights through Salem on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from two round trips daily to one.

So why would the city — and the feds, and the state, through lottery dollars — be investing in a larger terminal and a longer runway at Salem Municipal Airport?

Because the economy booms and goes bust in cycles. Oregon and the nation will rebound. And when that happens, the Mid-Valley and Salem will be ready.

[Interesting concept that--the belief that our economy will function in the days of $150+ (and ever scarcer) oil the same way that it did when oil was $20-$30 a barrel.]

Salem so far has weathered this downturn with less damage to its housing market than most of the nation. Construction continues here at a pace many other cities would envy.

Delta's cutback in Salem — just two round trips per week on slow days — was modest, given what is happening to airlines nationwide. The fact remains that during the carrier's first year operating twice-daily Salem-Salt Lake City flights, more than 46,500 passengers passed through the Salem terminal.

[And what says that this modest cut is the last one?]

Recruiting a carrier for north-south flights would be the logical next step. But Salem's airport terminal barely can handle the demands of two overlapping SkyWest flights at midday, let alone additional flights.

That's where the $1.5 million terminal expansion project comes in. It will add about 3,800 square feet of space, new restrooms and parking-lot improvements. Construction could start as soon as this fall.

The second part of the package announced last month is a $3.25 million runway extension. It will provide an extra margin of safety for Salem's present runway — the shortest in the state among airports with commercial jet service. It will take about two years to complete environmental assessments and design and build the project.

["Recruiting" a carrier -- funny, that always seems to involve giving money to private businesses, which never commit to continuing the routes one second past the end of the money.]

With that kind of lead time, it's clear that the city can't wait for the economy to improve. The terminal must be ready to accept added passengers, and the runway must be able to handle flights no matter how hot the weather — or at least be well on the way to that goal. Otherwise, Salem leaders can't seriously try to recruit more carriers and flights to McNary Field.

[Astonishing--the Coast Starlate makes one run each day in each direction and we are stuck with a weird amalgam of bus/rail service for our connections up and down the valley, yet the Stateman-Journal can only think of pouring money into a mode of travel that is already imploding.]

It's a tribute to Salem that the city's proposals won competitive grants to build these projects. In fact, state and federal money will cover about 99 percent of the total cost; only $47,500 will come from local sources.

[Meanwhile the library is cutting the bookmobile and the computer lab hours, among millions of dollars in city budget cuts.]

The awards suggest that Salem's airport is more than a matter of hometown pride. State officials think it plays a role in Oregon's transportation strategy as well.

Meanwhile, these projects will pump $4.75 million into the local economy. That's one way to help it snap back.

[Well, obviously expansion of Salem's airport has a role--it's a monument to denial, a tribute to the "Consensus Trance" that grips society today, the impenetrable haze that helps people pretend that the fundamental realignment of society to accomodate scarce and high-priced energy (and a climate crisis) is optional.]