U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt announced Tuesday that the Joplin Regional Airport has been awarded a $7.5 million grant through the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program to reconstruct a worn taxiway.

Twenty-five-year-old Taxiway D, the airport's oldest taxiway, has seen wear and tear from larger planes that are carrying more commercial passengers to and from the airport. The taxiway has grooves similar to those worn in street pavement at intersections that see heavy traffic.

"Reconstructing the taxiway will allow Joplin Regional Airport to keep up with increasing travel demand, which is great for local families and businesses," Blunt said in a statement. "I've been proud to advocate for the Airport Improvements Program, which is especially important for our regional airports. I'll continue supporting efforts to enhance passenger safety and strengthen our state's air transportation network."

David Hertzberg, director of public works for the city of Joplin, said that construction on the new taxiway should begin sometime in 2019.

"It's great," Hertzberg said of the grant. "It accelerates everything for us, and we like that opportunity."

Last year, American Eagle, part of American Airlines, upgraded Joplin flights from 46-seat jets to the CRJ-700, which holds 66 passengers, for daily nonstop flights to and from Dallas. American also announced a third Dallas flight that would be provided during peak travel periods such as holidays, spring and summer on a 76-passenger Embraer regional jet.

"With the steady growth and success of our commercial service with American Airlines we have seen an impact on our airfield infrastructure," said Steve Stockam, local airport manager, in a statement. "The larger commercial aircraft are great news for our customers but have taken a toll on the 25-year-old taxiway that supports our main runway."

The Airport Improvement Program provides grant funding for infrastructure improvements at public-use airports, and grants may cover from 90 to 95 percent of eligible costs for smaller airports, according to Blunt's office.

"With the support of Sen. Blunt, this supplemental funding grant has provided a window of opportunity to address this deteriorating taxiway immediately," Stockam said in the statement. "Reconstructing Taxiway D now will ensure we will have the infrastructure in place to support the continued growth of our commercial services as we look to add frequency and new service routes."

Committee membership

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operation, Safety and Security, and a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, according to his office. Blunt backed the Bipartisan Budget Act, signed into law in February, that increased resources for programs like the Airport Improvement Program and related infrastructure investments.

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