The Cost of Progress

Detroit Metropolitan Airport officials must forge ahead with expansion plans to maintain the region’s leadership role in passenger and cargo service.
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Sacrifice for the greater good has always been a noble — and often thankless — endeavor. But without sacrifice, the Detroit Three automakers and the UAW would still be fighting over a new labor contract, the Renaissance Center wouldn’t exist, and Detroit Tigers All-Star catcher Pudge Rodriguez wouldn’t be batting from the bottom of the order.

It’s understandable that scores of homeowners and businesses are upset that the Wayne County Airport Authority has proposed the addition of a seventh runway at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus. The $3.6-billion, 20-year master plan calls for a seventh runway (fifth parallel runway), terminal expansions, a monorail, a consolidated rental-car facility, and other improvements. The plan, subject to FAA approval, assumes that passenger traffic at the airport will increase to around 60 million over the next 20 years, up from nearly 36 million last year.

Clearly, the airport expansion must move forward. Air-passenger and cargo traffic is increasing steadily around the world, and our airport and public officials share a duty to support more efficient modes of transportation. Standing pat is not an option for, without progress, mail would still be delivered by pony express, a trip from Detroit to San Francisco would take days on end, and man surely would never have set foot on the moon.

But change is never a settling prospect. While it was no surprise that about 200 Romulus residents attended a recent Airport Authority meeting to protest the proposed master plan, the same consternation is happening in other Midwest cities like Chicago, as officials strive to expand their airports to keep pace with Detroit Metro’s collection of six runways and new terminals. The need to stay ahead of the competition is crucial to our region’s long-term growth prospects.

Certainly, residents and businesses located in the path of whatever final decision is made on a seventh runway may suffer financial losses. On the other hand, reality can be a tough pill to swallow. No one asked those residents to move near an airport that has expanded steadily over the last 60 years. But it happened.

A lot more needs to be done before the FAA approves the master plan, but placating angry landowners is not an option. If the airport stays as is, our neighbors in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis will eventually siphon away our passenger and cargo traffic — and the jobs that support them. Yes, it may be a Catch-22, but that’s the cost of progress.

R.J. King
rjking@dbusinessmag.com

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