May 08, 2001

Airport lands more parking

Lewis races to build 12-plane apron in time for July opening of speedway

Tuesday, May 8, 2001

By Rex Robinson
Staff writer


Lewis University Airport in Romeoville has received a $300,000 grant to build a new apron to park an additional dozen planes.

The grant, awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation, will allow the new apron to built in time for the first Chicagoland Speedway race weekend in Joliet in mid-July. The event will bring record crowds to the area, some of whom will be arriving by plane and will need a place to land and park their aircraft.

"I was jubilant," said Chris Lawson, director of aviation for the airport. "I can't say enough about (U.S. Rep. Jerry) Weller's office. They're out there swinging for us all the time."

Weller (R-Morris) worked in Washington, D.C., to land the grant.

The new apron should be finished by July 11, days before the Tropicana 400 and a second Winston Cup race on July 14-15, Lawson said. Airport officials have been told to expect up to 200 private planes to land during the race weekend.

The airport will have enough apron space to park about 25 planes. Additional planes will be parked all over the airfield, with some fencing temporarily removed to create more space, Lawson said.

The new apron will cost about $390,000 to build. The additional $90,000 will come from the Joliet Regional Port District, which owns and operates Lewis University Airport.

Weller's office is continuing to seek an additional $2.7 million grant from the FAA to help Lewis build a larger apron to park about 100 planes. Airport officials don't expect to find out about that grant money until sometime in August.

"It worked out nice in the interim, until we get the big (apron)," said Ron Hudson, an engineer for the Lewis airport.

In an attempt to get a handle on what to expect for the first race weekend, airport officials traveled to Alabama for last month's Talladega 500 race. Talladega Municipal Airport is about the same size as Lewis and is used heavily on race weekends. About 500 planes landed for the Talladega race, Hudson said.

"Now you can see why we need the bigger apron," Hudson said, as he watched a video shot by Lewis officials at the Talladega airport.

John Mullins, operations manager at Lewis, said he learned a number of different things by watching how Talladega officials handled air traffic for the event, like fueling all the planes while the race is going on so pilots can leave when the race ends.

Mullins said he is confident Lewis is ready for the first race weekend.

"I know we can do it," he said.

Rex Robinson may be reached at rrobinson@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-5950.



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