A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 12, 2001
CONTACT: Michael Auerbach (617) 722-2240
GROWING AIRPORTS FOR A GROWING POPULATION
There is a spot, just across the Potomac River from Washington DC, where the residents engage in a rather atypical activity. Instead of looking across at the Washington Monument and the US Capitol dome, they look upward and away from the city. They are gazing at airplanes, flying only a few hundred feet overhead as they land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Similar scenes can be found across the country. Here in Boston, people sit by the water at Long Wharf (as well as many other spots) and watch the planes take off from and land at Logan Airport. A great many Americans find aviation fascinating and are amazed at the technological triumph of flight.
For many years air travel has been the vacationer's preferred mode of transportation for long distance trips. Last November, more than 20 million Americans flew home (or elsewhere) for the Thanksgiving holiday. Combined, the seven major New England airports report over 1.3 million flight operations each year.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped that the State House in Boston is the "Hub of the solar system." The number of people traveling through Boston-area airports lends credence to this remark. Well over 18 million people traveled into or out of Logan between January and August last year. Of those who fly in New England, the vast majority (64%) travel through Logan airport. Of the 1.3 million flight operations recorded each year in New England airports, more than a third of them are logged at Logan.
Herein lies the problem: with so many people traveling into and out of Boston, Logan becomes an airline passenger's nightmare. A large amount of traffic means longer ticket lines, more luggage confusion, extended tarmac delays and horrific automobile traffic. One might expect such conditions if Logan were the only major airport in the region, but this is not the case. In fact, all of New England's major airports are within a two-hour drive of Boston. According to a recent Massport study, nearly everyone who resides in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire lives within 30 miles of at least one airport. Five million passengers who usually use Logan could choose an airport that is closer to them, and four million of them have two alternative airport choices (Manchester Airport and Worcester Regional Airport).
Fortunately, many southern New Englanders have found that more comfortable (and affordable) conditions exist outside of Boston. The number of New England travelers who fly through Logan is down about 16% from the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, Manchester and Providence's T.F. Green Airport have become the region's fastest growing airports. These two metropolitan areas have welcomed the increase in traffic and the economic development it brings.
On the other hand, as the number of flights to the Boston area continues to increase, the demand on airports and the communities in which they operate increases as well. An ongoing issue with which federal, state and local government officials have been struggling is that of airport expansion. While many fliers are traveling out of alternative airports, Logan is still strained by high air traffic. In the last ten years the airport has attempted to absorb this traffic with larger terminals and garages, as well as walkways between the terminals. The next proposed step is to build additional runways to accommodate the high number of incoming and departing aircraft. This proposal has fueled the consternation of residents of nearby Revere and East Boston, who feel that such projects would increase airport noise and disrupt neighborhoods.
Government officials and civic leaders have proposed alternatives to adding runways to Logan, but several of these plans have met similar controversy. Worcester Airport has been a popular alternative to Logan expansion, for example. However, in order to accommodate increased traffic, the airport would have to build access roads. Furthermore, neighborhood residents have shown their strong opposition to such an expansion, complaining that a larger airport would be noisier and more detrimental to the tranquility of the areas that surround Worcester.
Adjacent to Winchester, Stoneham and Reading is an area that has arguably seen the most controversy. Hanscom Air Force Base, located in Lexington, is one of the busiest general aviation airports in New England. Much of the traffic it manages are corporate and private jets, an category that has been increasing at Hanscom at a rate of 22% per year. Just recently, the Governor authorized Connecticut-based Shuttle America to increase its commercial flights into and out of the airfield, resulting in increased opposition from a wide variety of environmental, historical, political and community organizations.
Hanscom's case is particularly significant because of the region in which it operates. The airport is located adjacent to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the Minuteman National Historical Park. Within its flight paths are Walden Pond and Walden Woods, historic Lexington Green and downtown Concord and the North Bridge. The homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau, as well as the site of the pivotal Battle of Lexington and Concord are all in close proximity to Hanscom.
Congestion is an unpleasant side effect of a heavy population. Even the "Big Dig" will probably not prove to be the cure to metropolitan Boston's traffic woes. Likewise, there will probably never be enough runways at our airports to accommodate the ever-increasing level of traffic. Still, we must endeavor to fight congestion and at the same time safeguard our area's natural and historic landmarks. It is everybody's hope we can achieve both of these seemingly divergent tasks. It will not be easy, but the spirit of Massachusetts has helped its residents find their way through other difficult times throughout history. Daniel Webster once stated that he would offer no eulogy for Massachusetts, for the spirit that gave birth to the Commonwealth would endure through time. "There is Boston and Concord and Lexington," he wrote, "and there they will remain forever."