News - Should taxpayers foot the bill for Hartsfield’s runway dirt deal?

Yes. Taxpayers should support the runway project to keep Atlanta a major hub for air travel

South of town, the city of Atlanta has a noisy goose that lays golden eggs: Hartsfield International Airport.

It’s a place that is near to my heart. My father served as the city’s Commissioner of Aviation, and I practically grew up in that airport. It’s the economic engine that drives our city and, by extension, the entire state. Over the years, the airport has brought our area unparalleled prosperity and growth. It was because of the airport that Atlanta became a powerful city. An International city. An Olympic city.

It was brilliant planning and risk-taking by the city fathers of long ago that delivered Atlanta the distinction of becoming the air travel hub of the nation. Since the 1920s, city leaders — particularly mayor William B. Hartsfield — have supported the airport and its expansion. Most supported it for prideful civic reasons. Others championed it so they could enable their cronies to enrich themselves with fat construction contracts.

There is no question that the process of awarding city contracts is an inherently corrupt one. Secret no-bid deals, minority enterprise scams, white-owned front companies: These are all symptoms of the greater disease that infects the process. So it is certainly understandable why many would question the legitimacy of a $360-million fill dirt contract for the airport’s fifth runway. After all, dirt is dirt cheap, isn’t it?

Perhaps, but transporting millions of square yards of it on to the airport property, compacting it, testing it and grading it is not a minor task. The project involves a vast amount of detailed coordination and sophisticated scientific verification. Building a fifth runway will not be a menial job, and it is legitimately needed work.

It is unfortunate that city contracts to build portions of Hartsfield’s fifth runway will be awarded during the waning days of the disgraceful tenure of Mayor Bill Campbell. One can be certain that chicanery will infect any deal that goes down under his corrupt reign. But if there is any good news here, it is that the FBI is investigating the current fill-dirt contract. So the next mayor will have an opportunity to inject a bit of integrity into the subsequent contracts that complete the fifth runway project.

The biggest concerns regarding the airport’s fifth runway are political corruption and the decline in air travel — not whether taxpayers should be willing to support the continued expansion of the engine that drives our city’s economy.

Atlanta taxpayers should support the fifth runway project because it involves strengthening the city’s prospects to remain an important international city and a major hub for air travel. With recent developments in the airline industry, the last thing Atlanta needs is for its citizens to lose faith in the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Jeff Berry is a computer professional living in Alpharetta.??

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