HEBRON - Construction of a new regional airport in Gallatin County, Ky., could begin next year, the state's aviation commissioner told state lawmakers Thursday.
"The first hurdle is getting the land," said Paul Steely, commissioner of the Department of Aviation told a legislative committee during a meeting of the legislature's interim joint Transportation Committee.
The meeting, part of Northern Kentucky United, two days of legislative committee meetings here this week, was held in the bay of a fire station at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Tri-County Regional Airport would be within about a mile of the Kentucky Speedway's main gate. Speedway owners and local officials have been pushing the federal government to fund the $15 million airport.
Though the airport does not yet have funding, U.S. Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell and Rep. Geoff Davis are trying to get the airport in next year's federal budget, Steely said.
The airport is "much needed to meet the current and future economic and population growth needs of the area," Bunning said in a statement to the committee. "I will also do all I can to help promote this proposed airport and support it with federal funding."
William Robinson, chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board, told the legislators that Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport also supports the regional airport plan, "as long as the final design and construction are done in a way to ensure that no airspace conflicts (exist) between CVG and the new airport."
A study last year found that the Gallatin County airport would be used mainly by about 70 private plane owners living in the region. The study called for a 6,000-foot private airstrip, large enough to handle corporate jets and other small aircraft.
Speedway officials want the airport because drivers, sponsors and well-heeled fans usually fly to races. The airport could help the speedway's chances of landing a Nextel Cup race, the premiere NASCAR circuit.
"What the Tri-County Regional Airport would do also, it would be the next step forward in bringing a Nextel race to Kentucky," said Sen. Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park. "That should be a goal of all Kentuckians."
The state has identified three possible sites for the airport. Though all are close to the speedway, officials there prefer a flat tract of mostly farmland just south of Interstate 71 along Park Ridge Road.
The state is in discussions with landowners, Steely said. If the federal funding comes through early next year, construction could then begin, he said.
Though the airport is not being built just for the speedway, Steely said, "(the) speedway certainly justifies the project."