FAA awards Harlingen’s Valley International Airport $4.5 million grant

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The 1970s-era air traffic control tower at Valley International Airport in Harlingen has been in bad shape for a long time, but it’s a very expensive thing to replace.

Things got a big nudge in the right direction, though, with the Thursday announcement that the airport will receive a $4.5 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for a new tower. The money comes through the federal Airport Terminal Program (ATP), part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021.

“The ATP funds … will be instrumental in the modernization and expansion of airport terminals and control towers, ensuring adherence to the most rigorous standards of safety, security and passenger service,” according to the airport’s announcement.

Marv Esterly, the airport’s director of aviation, expressed gratitude for the support from federal representatives, the Harlingen Airport Board, Mayor Norma Sepulveda and city commissioners.

The FAA awarded Harlingen’s Valley International Airport a $4.5 million grant for a new control tower. These renderings show the airport’s concept for the planned tower. (Courtesy Photo)

“This funding is not only a milestone for our airport but also a reflection of their dedication to enhancing our aviation infrastructure,” he said. “The (tower) upgrade will significantly improve our operational capacity and ensure the safety and efficiency of our airspace.”

The total cost of the new tower, including design work, is “just under $27 million,” Esterly said. The rest of the money will come from a variety of other funding sources, such as federal contract tower funds that the airport has already applied for, and Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, AIP discretionary funding, and passenger facility charges, he said.

The $4.5 million from the FAA primes the pump in a big way, Esterly said.

“We’ll get there, we’re confident at this point,” he said. “With the FAA and the federal government putting this $4.5 million up, it’s all indications at this point that they’re ready to … get this thing done.”

The hope is that all the funding will be in place this year to get the project underway sometime in the third quarter, Esterly said, adding that design work is already complete and construction should take about a year start to finish. Construction on the new tower will commence once the old tower has been demolished, with the new facility being built in approximately the same location, he said.

Esterly said the new tower will be substantially taller than the old one, enabling air traffic controllers to see a newly extended runway and other points on the airfield from a higher elevation and with greater clarity. For now, controllers are transitioning into a temporary remote tower — essentially a trailer loaded with the necessary equipment, he said.

Esterly said he expects the controllers will be pleased with the new structure.

“No doubt, if you’ve seen the deplorable conditions they’ve been working in, they’re definitely going to be super happy,” he said.

Esterly thanked the FAA’s Southwest Region office for their assistance in making a new tower a reality, noting that “it’s going to eliminate a lot of issues.”

Sepulveda called the FAA grant a “transformative moment for the city of Harlingen and Valley International Airport.”

“The (grant) not only solidifies our commitment to maintaining a state-of-the-art facility but also showcases the federal government’s confidence in our city to continue thriving as a regional hub of commerce and travel,” she said.

Sepulveda, on behalf of the city, expressed deep gratitude to U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Brownsville, for his “unwavering support” in helping the airport secure the $4.5 million.

“Your dedication to our community’s safety and growth is truly appreciated,” she said.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continues to better our communities, modernize our infrastructure, and increase transportation reliability,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “The funding will ensure that Valley International Airport continues to provide top-notch safety to onboard travelers and crews while improving workplace conditions for hardworking staff.”