PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — For the first time, the Peoria International Airport could see funding for a new $20 million air traffic control tower replacement.
The 64-year-old tower is owned by the airport, not the Federal Aviation Administration, so it has been historically excluded from FAA grants. It is the second oldest non-FAA owned air tower in the country.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), visited the airport on Monday to highlight the local impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains specific language that includes non-FAA owned towers for grants.
“Employees who work there deserve better than they’re having to put up with for many years,” Bustos said. “We are now at the best place that we could possibly be in to tap into the resources that are needed to build a brand new air traffic control tower.”
Bustos took a tour of the air traffic control tower and painted a grim picture of the aging facility.
“It’s a structure that doesn’t work for, as we stand here, in 2021. There’s an asbestos problem, a leaking roof problem,” she said. “There’s literally caulk that is on the wall that directs dripping water away from the electrical boxes,”
Tim Ekvall, Peoria union president with the National Air Traffic Control Association, said the tower’s small size is the primary problem, with the training room serving numerous purposes. He said the proposed tower replacement would be double in size.
“We’ll have all the space that we’ll need to provide the best training possible and so will technical operations,” he said, adding they will have space for a simulator.
Ekvall said when he retires in nine years, he would love for the new air traffic control tower to be completed.
“I would love work in a brand-new facility, and finish out that way, and see what can really happen here,” he said.
Gene Olson, director of airports at Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria, said he became “very optimistic for the first time in his career” when the Infrastructure and Jobs Act was signed into law.
“Its exciting, it was kind of one of those fist pump moments. This keeps us in the game,” he said. “This is opening the door for us to take care…of an existential problem. If the tower goes away, the airport won’t operate.”
Olson said the project from start to finish will take about five years. He said the tower is unique because it is also used by the military, in addition to general aviation.
He said a draft application has been completed and is just waiting for next steps from the Biden administration.
Bustos said the air traffic control tower replacement will be a joint effort of federal dollars and local work.
“When you hear the word ‘shovel ready’, we get this money, and we’re going to get moving on,” she said.