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Citing Safety Concerns, Marfa Airport Plans Runway Facelift

A plane en route to Big Lake, a town south of Midland, stops at the Marfa Municipal Airport on Wednesday (Graham Dickie/KRTS)

Pilots looking to bring a red-eye flight into Marfa may soon be able to do so safely.

Officials from the municipal airport and representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation met at the airport's sole terminal Wednesday (July 29) to discuss new building plans, almost all of them aimed at providing visual aids on the runway.

New lights, signage, and other cues for aviators' eyes are all in the works. Officials say the upgrades will make for safer landings and takeoffs, and the lights in particular will allow for more night traffic.

The project has a hefty price tag though -- $800,000. Most of the money is coming from the federal government, but county funds will be tapped too.

Burt Compton runs Marfa Gliders, a flight school based at the airport that takes tourists for joy rides and trains aspiring pilots. He said he sees value in the lights but the airport needs other improvements more.

"We’re just concerned that the airport budget be administered properly and wisely," Compton said after the meeting. "And not just ‘Oh let’s make it look good.’ Let’s think about the infrastructure first."

To get federal funding, though, proper lighting is a must. Lisette Ferguson is a subcontractor on the project. She said she understands concerns over the cost but that ultimately putting lights on the tarmac will help get the Marfa airport on the map.

“What it's going to do is increase the reliability and safety of the operations at the airport," Ferguson said. "That's another thing that's difficult to put a price on."

A lot has to happen before construction gets under way. There's an engineering phase. There’s a design phase. And then there's a bidding phase.

Finally, if everything goes according to schedule, construction will start in early 2016. It has yet to be determined when or for how long the runway might be closed.

- Graham Dickie and Asa Merritt