Best of the West: Investments in regional airports; broadband in a toaster oven; Yellowstone Recovery; training tourists for space

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting August 1, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Pascal Meier and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

With travel at pre-pandemic levels and an increased interest in the West’s breathtaking scenery and recreational opportunities, regional airports are thriving. 

Colorado’s regional airports in Aspen, Durango, Eagle County, Gunnison, Hayden, and Montrose saw a record number of passengers in 2021, and this year’s numbers are well above average. 

As the usage of regional airports continues to increase, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke at WGA’s 2022 Annual Meeting about the Biden Administration's investment of $1 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve 85 regional airports and help sustain economies and workforces in rural areas. 

Washington state’s Pullman-Moscow Airport on the border of Washington and Idaho, which saw passenger traffic increase from 30,000 to 70,000 between 2009 and 2019, is wrapping up a $158 million runway realignment project. After USDOT awarded it a grant to help establish more flights, the airport also plans to use $17 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new terminal five times the size of the current one. USDOT and FAA also awarded $10 million to Washington’s airports for safety upgrades, including runway maintenance.

Washington, however, is far from the only state taking advantage of the available funding. The City of Waco Regional Airport in Texas is modernizing its terminal with $8 million from the CARES ActOregon will use $17.5 million from the FAA to improve regional runways in Corvallis, Pendleton, and Klamath Falls. North Dakota’s regional airports will see $1.4 million from the FAA for runway installation, construction, rehabilitation, and airport assessment upgrades. Airports in Alaska received $80 million in federal funding for safety and capital improvements. Additionally, the FAA is making a $3 million investment in California’s Hollywood Burbank Airport that will include updates to Noise Exposure Maps and help identify where the airport can undertake mitigation efforts. 

Metropolitan destinations are also taking advantage of the travel boom by adding regional airport routesIn December, American Airlines will add a direct flight from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas to the Eagle County Airport in Vail, Colorado. For Eastern Washington Residents, the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport is one of the top 10 destinations to visit, and a $750,000 grant from the USDOT will help the Tri-Cities Airport in Eastern Washington create a direct flight. A route between Phoenix, Arizona, to Gallup, New Mexico, a city known for its Indigenous culture and art, is resuming for the first time in 12 years. The route, which Advanced Airlines will manage, will help veterans access critical medical services that aren’t available in Gallup. Read what the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said about providing veterans with quality health care during a keynote address at WGA’s 2022 Annual Meeting

Workforce Investment: The U.S. Commerce Department recently launched the “Good Jobs Challenge,” which will invest $500 million in 32 workforce training programs and create 50,000 new jobs. The Nevada-based company, Nevadaworks, is one of the recipients that will receive $14.9 million to place workers in manufacturing, health care services, information technology, and transportation logistics. Another project in South Dakota will use $5 million to promote the Indigenous building trade. “Great things can happen when the government comes together with the private sector, educational institutions, labor [and] local organizations…to do what it takes to build a healthy, vibrant, inclusive, competitive economy,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Learn about Western Governors’ work to expand access to high-quality career and technical education through workforce development policies in the WGA policy resolution, Workforce Development in the Western United States.

Broadband in a Toaster Oven: Colorado-based EUCAST Global, Inc. plans to expand broadband access with a metal box the size of a toaster oven. Each box can connect to 200 devices at once, benefiting rural factories and farms that use robotics and remote sensors. The technology is more affordable than alternatives and doesn’t require the company to construct cell towers or dig fiber. Read about the Western Governors’ policy recommendations for bridging the digital divide in rural areas in the WGA Policy Resolution, Broadband Connectivity

Yellowstone Flood Recovery: After catastrophic flooding in June forced Yellowstone National  Park to close, the area is seeing improvements from recovery efforts. The Tower Junction to Slough Creek route reopened on Wednesday. Park officials also targeted October for the reopening of the north entrance. Visitors must reserve an entry ticket online before arrival to enter the newly reopened area. Additionally, small businesses in the area will see relief with the Small Business Administration’s $4.5 million investment in disaster loans. The funding will offer Business Physical Disaster Loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and Home Disaster Loans. 

Used EV Boom: In June, used electric vehicle (EV) sales surpassed gasoline-powered cars in Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. In the second quarter of 2022, battery-powered cars made up 5.6% of sales nationally —more than double last year’s sales. Data from EV sales will help determine the best places to build EV charging stations. Find out how Western Governors are working on expanding EV infrastructure in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s Electric Vehicles Roadmap Initiative

Training Tourists for Space: Virgin Galactic is investing in southern New  Mexico and plans to build a campus and training facility for astronauts. The company sells tickets to individuals who want to take a trip into space, and passengers will stay at the training center for five nights before their launch. Earlier this year, tickets were selling at $450,000 per individual. “At Virgin Galactic, the road to space begins in New Mexico, and we are proud to showcase the state as the launch point for our unique and unparalleled experience,” said Blair Rich, Virgin Galactic president and chief business officer of commercial and consumer operations. 

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