Georgia View: The Not-So-Friendly Skies

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is arguably Georgia’s largest economic engine, in addition to its perennial status as the world’s busiest airport. One might think a majority of Georgia communities would covet such an asset enriching their job base and tax coffers.

As the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal nears completion, the airport has all but run out of footprint for future expansion. Metro Atlanta remains one of the few major Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) of its size with only one commercial service airport.

A recently released federally funded study reviewed the pluses and minuses of 29 potential sites in Metro Atlanta, narrowed quickly by a number of factors to eight finalists. None is a shoo-in, and almost every potential location already has built-in opposition, with costs for redevelopment and expansion in the range of $2 billion. Whatever the long-term outcome of the budget battles on Capitol Hill, it’s a given that there will be fewer federal dollars available to fund massive infrastructure projects.

Communities might want the jobs and tax revenues, but they don’t want the accompanying noise and traffic congestion. The FAA-backed study reviewed sites within a 60-mile radius of Hartsfield, and required that they have a 1,400-acre footprint and a 9,000-foot runway for larger jet traffic.

Here are the pros and cons for the eight sites considered possibilities – some of them long shots, for sure.

Briscoe Field, Gwinnett County: Located in Hartsfield’s northeast arrival corridor. Would require purchase of residential and commercial properties, impact local roads, railroads and two churches. Perhaps greater potential for a separate effort to privatize the airport, allowing commercial flights on a smaller scale. Estimated price: $2.2 billion.

Cobb County Airport: Would require purchase of roughly 100 commercial properties.  Would impact I-75, Georgia Route 3 and area railroad lines. Likely strong residential opposition due to noise. Estimated price: $2.6 billion.

Dobbins Air Reserve Base: Due to proximity to Hartsfield and other metro satellite airports, this has the worst airspace issues of all eight finalists. Significant population density nearby, and noise issues would require relocations of area residences and businesses. Has a suitable runway for commercial jet traffic. Estimated price: $1.4 billion.

Dawson/Forsyth Site: Acquired by the City of Atlanta during the 1970s when it was heavily rural; now well-developed surroundings.  Possible greater potential for conversion into a water reservoir. Estimated price: $2.3 billion.

Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport: The City of Atlanta acquired 10,000 acres in the 1970s for the possible construction of a northside airport. In 2007, Atlanta sold back 162 acres to Paulding to expand the small commuter airport there. Site would require relocation of U.S. Highway 278 and costly access roads; major airspace issues with Hartsfield. Estimated price: $2.8 billion.

Barrow County Airport: Located within Hartsfield-Jackson’s northwest flight arrivals corridor. Site would require the relocation of more than 200 nearby residences and businesses. Current runway orientation is challenging. Estimated price: $2.2 billion.

Cartersville Airport: Would require the relocation of 340 residences and would impact local roads, railroads and the Etowah Valley Historic District. Cost would also be steep for access roads and earthwork site preparation. Estimated price: $2.9 billion.

Cherokee County Airport: Would require moving I-575, as well as substantial site prep and earthwork in the range of $883 million. Estimated total: $2.5 billion.

Perhaps a real-time chat with the civic leadership of College Park, East Point or Hapeville can provide some of the talking points against neighboring such a macro economic magnet. But the lack of federal funding or reluctance from carriers to fund a second airport are more likely to keep this project grounded. Only Briscoe Field is receiving more than modest business community support. 

In the near term, and possibly the long, keep planning ahead for those lengthy TSA security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson.