In December 1988, the Metropolitan Council completed a lengthy study of the long-term adequacy of the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport (MSP). The study concluded that one new runway would probably be needed between 1993 and 1998 and a second new runway would probably be needed between 2003 and 2018. In addition, the Council's report said that there was a significant risk that, even with every reasonable capacity enhancement, the existing airport's capacity would be exceeded within 20 years. Finally, the report concluded that, despite the expected introduction of quieter aircraft, noise-induced stress around MSP would increase due to the growing frequency of flights.
Based on the study's findings and recommendations, the 1989 Legislature mandated a dual-track planning process which would simultaneously consider both expansion of MSP and construction of a new airport. The legislatively-mandated planning schedule will result in the Council and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) recommending a decision to the Legislature by mid-1996. The early years of this seven-year planning process have included these activities: revision of aviation forecasts, selection of a new airport search area, development of a 30-year plan for MSP, study of alternative plans for reusing MSP, and examination of alternative sites for a new airport within the search area. Much of the detailed economic, aviation, and environmental planning and analysis has not yet been done but is scheduled to be completed in time for a July 1996 recommendation to the Legislature.
Although the dual-track process is years from completion, the process has become quite controversial. This evaluation was prompted by legislative concerns about the technical adequacy of work already completed. In addition, some legislators questioned whether recent changes in the airline industry should prompt changes in the scope or timing of the dual-track process. This report examines the following general concerns about the planning process:
Our main findings are that:
In 1987, the Metropolitan Council recommended that the Legislature approve the undertaking of an airport adequacy study. The Council was appropriately concerned that insufficient attention was being paid to long-range airport planning in the face of strong growth in operations at MSP. However, we found that the Council's adequacy study was not carried out very well from a technical standpoint and that it overstated the probable capacity problems at MSP. In particular, we found that:
Timing of the Planning Process
Based on the revised forecasts made in 1990 and on the analysis of MAC's consultants, it could be argued that only one new runway will be needed before the year 2020. MAC's revised forecast and analysis suggest that the new runway would probably be needed sometime between 2005 and 2010. This scenario also suggests that some detailed planning work could be postponed. Completion of a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) too many years prior to the need for capacity enhancement at either MSP or a new site could result in the need to redo some EIS work. In addition, it could be argued that the current financial condition of Northwest Airlines precludes any significant construction plans for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, there are some good reasons not to delay the detailed EIS work. First, although the revised long-run forecasts made in 1990 seem reasonable, it is possible that the growth forecast to occur over 30 years could come earlier in the 30-year period than either MAC or the Council are now forecasting. For example, despite Northwest Airlines' financial condition, operations at MSP increased substantially in 1992 as Northwest consolidated more of its operations at MSP and its Detroit hub. Also, there are some indications that Northwest and its regional airline partners may wish to significantly increase regional operations at MSP. Even if Northwest's air carrier operations do not grow much after 1993, the potential growth in regional operations could make a new runway desirable around the year 2000. Thus, there is still a reasonable chance that the current timing of the dual-track process will be appropriate.
Second, there are pressures to complete the work that has begun. Residents near MSP would probably object to any delay because of a recent increase in noise around MSP as Northwest has added flights and delayed the purchase of quieter aircraft. Residents living in or near the Dakota County search area for a new airport might object to delaying the EIS since some believe that the search area is unacceptable for environmental and other reasons and that those issues should be resolved and not delayed.
Due to the considerable uncertainty facing any forecaster and the momentum of the dual-track process, we feel that any decision regarding the timing of the dual-track process is a difficult judgment call. As a result, this report does not recommend changing the timing of the dual-track process.
Although we differ with MAC consultants and staff regarding some of their forecast assumptions and results, we generally found their work to be technically competent. The Council consultants and staff have appropriately attempted to provide a more comprehensive view of some issues than MAC and to summarize some of the broader implications of airport planning. This led the Council consultants during the adequacy study to attempt to make very precise statements about future airport adequacy, to examine the benefits and costs of capacity enhancement, and to look for an alternative noise measurement tool which would better capture the conflicting effects of increasing flights and quieter aircraft on noise stress.
However, we found that:
The serious problems we found with the technical aspects of Council studies or analyses were that:
This does not mean that all Council airport planning work has had problems. Indeed, some very good work has also been done. However, we have serious concerns about the technical merits of some important Council analyses and feel that the technical weaknesses of the consultants and staff should be immediately addressed by the Council.
Presentation of Planning Work
A lesser, but also important, concern is that:
This concern is both a general and a very specific one. In general, we found that both agencies could do a better job of summarizing the assumptions and conclusions of their technical work. While the dual-track process is open to public participation and characterized by many committees and public meetings, the many technical documents produced thus far are difficult to collect, read, and understand. The documents, such as those dealing with aviation forecasts and their implications for airport adequacy, are complex and not well summarized. We feel that better summaries of assumptions, historical trends, forecasts, and conclusions should be available to policy makers and interested public participants.
Some specific concerns we had were that:
In addition, we also found that the Council's consultants and staff need to do a better job of documenting their analyses. For example, we found it was difficult to determine what assumptions were used in the Council forecasts because their consultants, in contrast to MAC's consultants, did not always write down all their assumptions and put them in one document. In addition, the Council consultant had difficulty in providing us with details of important analyses done in 1988 and 1989.
Future Planning Work
Our study also included a limited review of the plans for remaining work on the dual-track planning process. Overall, we found that:
However, it is difficult to fully endorse the agencies' plans since they have not yet carried out the needed studies and we have serious concerns about how the Council staff and its consultants carried out some of their previous planning work.
One important piece of planning work that had been missing from the Council's agenda, until we brought it to the attention of the chair and staff, is that:
The North/South runway is MAC's preferred option if capacity is added to MSP. That option would require acquisition of several hotels in Bloomington which are in the flight path or safety zone of the runway. We found that the Council staff assigned to the dual-track process were not aware of whether the Council had sufficient authority to prevent additional development in those areas. In addition, the Council and its staff had no plans to work with either the affected communities or the Legislature to make sure that any development would be compatible with that option or other runway options. This situation is in direct contrast with the new airport search area where the Council has direct statutory authority to limit development. Following our discussion of this concern with the Council chair and staff, the Council has begun to seek consultant and legal advice on how best to address the issue.
We have recommendations in the following four areas: 1) improving the technical adequacy of planning work, 2) improving the presentation and documentation of planning studies, 3) revising current forecasts and monitoring MSP aviation activity, and 4) protecting the North/South runway option or other expansion options at MSP.
Based on our findings, we are particularly concerned that the Metropolitan Council have adequate staff and consultant support. While the Council staff assigned to the dual-track process are good general planners and facilitators of the planning process, we are concerned that the staff are not adequately equipped to evaluate the technical merits of analyses done by either the Council or MAC consultants. In addition, the Council's consultants, while providing some useful insights, have made some questionable judgments in methods and conclusions. We recommend that:
Presentation and Documentation
Both agencies need to improve their written presentation of technical reports. The Council's consultants also need to improve their documentation of analyses. We recommend that:
Forecasts and Monitoring
While we take issue with the forecasts published in 1988, we found that the forecasting methods and results used in 1990 were generally more reasonable. Currently, the Council and MAC are once again in the process of revising the dual-track aviation forecasts. We recommend that:
Although we do not recommend changing the timing of the dual-track process at this time, we recommend the following:
Protection of Development Options at MSP
The purpose of the dual-track process was to conduct a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of options for adding airport capacity. The Council sought, and the Legislature provided, land use restrictions for new airport search areas. However, the Council staff has not researched the Council's authority to review and limit development which might jeopardize the use of a North/South runway at MSP -- MAC's preferred expansion option at MSP -- or other MSP development options. In addition, until recently, the Council staff had not planned any dual-track activities to address this concern. We recommend that: