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Fort Lauderdale's Sky-High Runway: Looks Like They're Actually Going to Build This Thing

Welcome back to "Holy Crap, That's Big," our blog series in which we look at humongous things going up in South Florida and the people behind them. Let this blog post serve as official notice that we are going to spend a lot of time puzzling over this huge pile of dirt for planes to drive on that also is very big and costs a lot of money.

The debate over a new runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has been going on for years -- but officials finally broke ground this week, and it looks like the feds are serious about picking up most of the cost. That cost is $791 million.

The theory goes that there are too many delays at the Fort Lauderdale airport due to planes waiting for a spot on the one active runway, 9L/27R, which runs parallel to I-595. We've never experienced any to speak of, but that's the theory. A fact is that there are contractors in Broward County who would like very much to sell a lot of cement and bulldozer work to government buyers. Here's what the airport looks like now:

That's the main runway at the top, an unused diagonal one in the middle, and a little runway for private planes along the bottom. One of the options proposed was an expansion of the diagonal runway, which would keep all the spaghetti on the plate, if you will. That idea was rejected because it would have more planes flying over populated areas. Aviation experts and amateurs discussing the project have debated putting a parallel runway up top, but the two would be too close to use simultaneously.

Which brings us to the selected option, AKA "the best idea in the world:"

Notice how the south runway now extends eastward over Federal Highway and the FEC tracks, into what is now wetland.

Or, was wetland. After a groundbreaking on Monday morning attended by the County Commission and several federal officials including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, workers have started moving the plants from the wetland to prepare it for the onslaught of dirt, which will look like this:

In case you're wondering about the cost breakdown, passenger fees tacked onto tickets will pay for the bulk of the $791 million project (actually, they'll pay $971 million including money for interest payments and other financing costs). The FAA will kick in around 250 million, and Broward will be on the line for $5.5 million.

The whole runway-over-a-road thing isn't completely novel: It's used in Las Vegas and L.A., among other cities, and in a recent expansion project at Seattle-Tacoma airport. But combine a major road with railroad tracks under a 1.3 percent slope and you get a record-setter.

For reference, see this airport in Portugal, which features an ocean that's disconcertingly close to the top of the ramp. So if we ever get any direct flights to Funchal, the pilots will be well-prepared to land on this thing.

Don't worry. It all falls within the FAA's acceptable limits -- and officials say passengers won't feel a thing when the plane goes up the ramp.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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