Spokane International Airport will get to keep its human weather observers – for now.
The U.S. Senate last week passed a funding extension bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that prohibits cutting Spokane and other airport weather observer services through September 2017. The bill previously passed the House.
Cuts to eliminate the human observers were proposed for 57 of the 136 airports using them nationwide, including Spokane. The positions are under contract with the FAA.
The observers cost the government about $500,000 a year in Spokane. They oversee automated weather sensors.
But the most critical part of their job is to relay emerging weather conditions to pilots and the air traffic control tower that are not being detected by the automated system.
Freezing rain, sudden winds, smoke, dust, haze, approaching thunderstorms, variable cloud cover and rolling fog are conditions the automated sensors are incapable of detecting adequately for aircraft safety, airport officials said.
In 10 days in December, the human observers in Spokane overrode the automated system 900 times.
In January, the automated system failed to detect freezing rain that quickly enveloped the airfield. A loaded jetliner slid off a taxiway. No one was injured.
FAA officials have wanted to shift the weather observing duty to air traffic controllers atop the control tower to save money.
Spokane airport officials said that is a bad idea because it takes controllers away from their primary duties. Plus, they are more than 200 feet above ground.
Washington’s two U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined the nationwide fight to prevent the cut.
“Protection of the contract weather observer program was our top priority and is a substantial legislative accomplishment,” Max Kuney, airport board chairman, said in a news release.
The airport has 3 million passenger departures and arrivals annually.
In addition to retaining funding, the legislation requires the FAA to report to Congress on a more thorough review of operational safety with respect to the human observers.
“The FAA must also identify the process through which they analyzed the safety hazards associated with the elimination of the contract weather observer program at the 57 locations that includes Spokane,” said the news release from the airport.
I-90 lanes close for off-ramp work
Construction of a new westbound off-ramp on Interstate 90 at Freya Street will kick into high gear with major lane closures this weekend.
Crews will reduce westbound traffic through the construction area to two lanes from three.
In addition, the Fancher Road on-ramp will be closed for the weekend.
Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, westbound I-90 will be reduced to two lanes, then go down to one lane from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday so the contractor can set up barriers.
After that, the freeway will have two lanes open westbound until Sunday evening, when it again will be reduced to a single lane for barrier removal through 3 a.m. next Monday.
In addition, Second Avenue will close from Havana to Freya streets starting next Monday.
The westbound Sprague Avenue on-ramp and westbound Freya off-ramp will remain open.
Also in that area, landscape maintenance will reduce westbound I-90 to two lanes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
U.S. 195 lanes to be restricted
In other highway projects, U.S. Highway 195 will see lane restrictions in both directions from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday for barrier maintenance between I-90 and White Road.
At Sherman Pass, a crack-sealing operation will reduce traffic to alternating lines of single-file traffic Monday through Thursday.
Also, crack sealing on state Highway 21 from Keller to Republic will lead to single-file alternating traffic Monday through Thursday.
On U.S. 195, vegetation removal will result in lane restrictions Monday through Thursday from Hatch to Excelsior roads.
Mount Spokane Park Drive closes to traffic Monday for a major project to repair the road. The closure will begin at the park gate. Only residents of condos on the mountain will be allowed through.
Spokane Valley roadwork
In Spokane Valley, 32nd Avenue from Dishman-Mica to University roads will be closed through mid-August for street preservation.
Also, 32nd will be down to one lane in each direction from University to Pines roads through mid-August. The sidewalk on the south side also will be closed.
Broadway Avenue from Sullivan to Conklin roads will be reduced to a single lane in each direction through July. There may be full closures overnight Wednesday through Friday for construction work.
The intersection of Indiana Avenue and Evergreen Road will have lane reductions for construction through July 29.
A utility project will close 12th Avenue at Reeves Road from Monday morning to Wednesday afternoon.
In Spokane, stormwater work starts Monday on the streets around Pacific Avenue and Ivory Street, including segments of First Avenue and Helena Street.
Work on Monroe and Lincoln streets in the downtown area and on the lower South Hill continues.
Rowan Avenue from Driscoll Boulevard to Monroe Street will reopen July 25.
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