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BWI Marshall expansion gets OK amid airport noise concern

Baltimore-Washington International Airport, seen here during a 2010 snowstorm, continues to see its passenger count grow. The airport saw a record number of travelers in January 2016. (AP Photo File Photo/Gail Burton)

WASHINGTON — Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved a $60 million expansion plan for BWI Marshall Airport — but not without some sometimes testy discussion over continued complaints about airport noise.

The vote to improve the plan was 2-1 with Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp voting in favor of the plan, and Comptroller Peter Franchot voting against.

Franchot suggested that putting off the infrastructure improvement plan might nudge the Federal Aviation Administration to reverse the changes in flight patterns that allow planes to fly lower along a narrower path to the airport.

At Thursday’s hearing, Anne Arundel County resident Mary Reese described the impact of NextGen, the FAA’s changes to flight patterns that she said steer endless, deafening air traffic over her home.

Reese said it has destroyed property values in the area. She told the Board of Public Works that because of airport noise, “I have heard from realtors who have buyers walking away from homes in prime real estate areas.”

Hogan said while he sides with area residents who describe endless, window-rattling air traffic above their homes, that had little to do with the plan for improvements at BWI Marshall.

He told Franchot, “These are not two mutually exclusive goals. Let’s upgrade the service at the airport and let’s continue to fight the FAA.”

Airport officials said the improvements would upgrade an out-of-date and inefficient baggage handling system, and improve the food court and bathrooms. The project would add new gates, as well.

Fixing the baggage handling system alone would go a long way toward improving customer experience at the airport, according to officials who say passengers have told them of hourslong waits to get their luggage.

Franchot said he disagreed with the governor and held out for a delay on approving the expansion. He said that the airport could post a sign at the baggage carousel telling passengers unhappy with the inconvenience to contact the FAA because it is “inflicting this noise pollution on our state.”

“It’s very frustrating to hear some of the stories about the people that are concerned, and what they’re suffering from with this noise,” Hogan told the panel.

But, he said that’s a separate issue from approving the renovation at the airport.

Noting that the improvements are intended to enhance the “customer experience” at BWI Marshall, Hogan said putting off the project would end up “punishing the wrong people.”

Last week, the FAA walked away from talks with state officials over NextGen. That came after Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh went to federal court to call on the agency to readjust the flight patterns.

Residents near BWI Marshall and Reagan National airports have appealed to state and federal lawmakers to help them with noise abatement in their areas.


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