Federal Government Funds New $21 Million Airport for Alaska Town With 46 Residents

An interior Alaska community with just 46 residents is in line for a new $21 million airport.

The state received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build the airport at Takotna 17 miles west of McGrath and 300 miles west of Fairbanks.

The amount spent is not really an option under Federal Aviation Administration rules, said Roger Maggard, the state Department of Transportation's airport development manager.

"The fact of it is, in order to meet all the dimensional requirements that the FAA requires for funding an airport, they do become quite expensive," Maggard said. "It doesn't matter in terms of airport costs whether it's 50 people or 250 people or 500 people. It still requires the same airport facility."

The Takotna grant was part of more than $70 million worth of grants and contracts awarded last week to Alaska communities by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a press release from the congressional delegation.

At 3,300 feet long and 75 feet wide, the new airport in Takotna will be almost twice the size of the old one, Maggard said. The current airport is 1,700 feet long and 45 feet wide.

The new airport will have lights and will be at a new site because the old one is built into the side of a hill. The current airstrip has no lights. Maggard called it "very substandard."

"The existing airport is the state's airport, and it needed to be upgraded," Maggard said. "We did a planning analysis and determined the best thing to do was relocate it to an area that was better able to meet the dimensional requirements of the FAA."

The Federal Aviation Administration will provide 95 percent of the funding with the state supplying the remaining 5 percent, Maggard said.

The Takotna airport is one of 256 rural airports managed by the state. The DOT spends an average of about $140 million per year on rural airport projects and most is funded with federal money.

"Most of the major projects in small villages are cases where the state may have built an airport a long time ago without federal funding and it was not built to modern standards, so we're going back in to upgrade them," he said.

The airport is almost the only way in and out of Takotna during summer months. Riverboats can sometimes be used to reach McGrath about river 20 miles away on the Kuskokwim River, depending on water levels in the Takotna River.

"The river gets shallow so even that is questionable at times, Maggard said.