A nearly $319.7 million, 20-year master plan for Rochester International Airport comes with a potential $108 million shortfall, but offers wiggle room.

“We believe the proposed capital improvement plan is financially feasible,” said Monica Weddle, a representative from Liebowitz and Horton Airport Management Consultants Inc.

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The plan has a nearly $81.7 million budget for the first five years, which includes $66.8 million for runway and taxiway improvements that start next month. Planned spending drops to $30.9 million for the next five years, before hitting $206 million during a 10-year period that includes more runway work.

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At least $146.8 million of the 20-year budget is expected to be funded by the federal Airport Improvement Program, with the state covering nearly $22.7 million.

Weddle said the potential shortfall for future improvements is seen during the final 10 years of the plan, largely because it’s difficult to predict access to federal grants and other funding that far in advance.

The Rochester International Airport Monday, April 26, 2021. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
The Rochester International Airport Monday, April 26, 2021. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“That’s not at all unusual, especially in the long term, because our crystal ball is not all that clear as we go that far out,” she told the City Council on Monday.

The financial study required the consultants to examine the potential course for economic recovery for the airport, since pre-pandemic passenger traffic might not reflect what the airport will see in the next five years.

While the Rochester facility typically sees more revenue per passenger than other non-hub airports, Weddle said her team will be working with local operators to identify potential revenue enhancements.

Additionally, she said the timing of long-term improvements identified in the Rochester International Airport’s 20-year master plan, which is being fine-tuned, could be tweaked if federal funding or other options aren’t available in 2030 or beyond.

Projects in that portion of the plan include a nearly $95.7 million terminal expansion, in addition to nearly $89.7 million in added runway work.

“It’s very typical that as the years go by and the need for those projects get a little bit closer, you’ll have a little bit more clarity on what funding sources may be (available) at that time,” she said.

The Rochester International Airport Monday, April 26, 2021. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
The Rochester International Airport Monday, April 26, 2021. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The first work defined in the 20-year plan is set to start next month.

A May 7 groundbreaking has been set for the first of six phases of airport improvements scheduled for the next five years.

Nearly three years after kicking off the master plan project, Evan Barrett, the planning lead for Mead and Hunt, the city’s consultant on the project, said the key challenge in the 20-year plan was the runway project, which will eventually reconstruct the intersection of the facility’s two runways.

The plan calls for extending the airport’s second runway to avoid closing the facility to cargo and passenger traffic or creating a temporary runway. Barrett said the plan has the lowest impact on surrounding wetlands and comes at the lowest price — $80 million — without interrupting key airport operations.

The final plan is still under review. Plans for future phases have been released for an environmental assessment, which will include a May 19 public hearing to address any environmental concerns, before the Federal Aviation Administration makes a decision on the overall project.