Next week, TxDot hopes the Transportation Commission will approve their decision to fund 13 air traffic control towers in Texas.
Tyler Pounds Regional Airport is home to one of the control towers that's funding is set to be cut by the Federal Aviation Administration next month. The FAA plans to halt funding to 149 towers nationwide as they try to meet a series of budget cuts due to the sequestration.
But it's no secret TxDOT has some funding problems of their own.
While the City of Tyler has been adamant that a tower closure would not affect travel at their airport, Thursday, TxDOT executive director Phil Wilson said the funding cuts could shut down others. He said, "Flying is an integral part of commerce in Texas. Local communities are counting on these airports to remain open for continued economic success."
TxDOT's plan to fund the towers is a welcome announcement.
"This is what we consider a very prudent step on TxDot's part to assist us. The air traffic control tower allows us to maintain an efficient and effective airport," said Cater Delleney, Tyler city engineer.
The Transportation Commission will have the final say this Thursday. But just last month, Senator Kevin Eltife pushed lawmakers to start talking about TxDot's own debt and how to help them out of it. He says they've racked up a $13 billion bill funding road projects with bonds for the last 10 years and are in desperate need of a new revenue source to keep up with the state's infrastructure. Eltife proposed increasing the gas tax, along with other ideas to generate new revenue for TxDOT.
"Vehicle inspection stickers is an option. Sales tax is an option. I'm open to any option, but we've got to quit selling bonds; we've got to quit going into debt and we've got to get our state on a pay as you go basis," said Eltife in a February interview.
If TxDot is approved to fund the control towers, it'll buy cities like Tyler time to keep scoping out other long-term options. Airport manager Davis Dickson met with the FAA again on Thursday, hoping they'll reconsider the decision to stop funding the Tyler tower.
"It does more than just serve Tyler or East Texas. It serves the entire region, and there's a lot of national interest there, too," he said in a press conference earlier this month.
In the last 5 years, the FAA has granted Tyler $19.5 Million for safety improvements in and around the airport. The city hopes the FAA will recognize that investment and change their mind about the closure.
TxDOT's funding of the towers is expected to be temporary. Their offices were closed Friday and they were unavailable for comment. Governor Perry has asked TxDOT to fund the 13 towers for 90 days. Funding the Tyler tower alone would cost them about $150,000.
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