By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer bbullock@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:26 am 

Even though the runway expansion project at the Santa Maria Public Airport has run into unexpected challenges, it’s still on approach to open later this year.

The $3.5 million first phase that includes infrastructure improvements and extension of the taxiway has required tweaking because the contractor, Granite Construction, ran into unexpected soil conditions. But airport General Manager Chris Hastert said the project is still on schedule.

The changes will add $44,000 to the final cost of the first phase of the project. It also will move the completion date of the first phase back by about a month to May 18.

Granite Construction was one of three companies to submit a bid for the project, which was $1.2 million under an engineer’s estimate of $4.8 million. The original completion date was April 12.

A grant from the Federal Aviation Administration is paying for 95 percent of the first phase.

The second phase of the project is estimated to cost around $8 million and also will mostly be funded by the FAA.

Hastert said the second phase has a “smaller footprint but is more intensive.” That phase will extend the runway pavement 1,700 feet and relocate the airport’s navigational aids for the Instrument Landing System.

When it’s finished, the main runway will be 8,004 feet, which will allow the airport to handle larger aircraft and more corporate and private jets.

The second phase will be put out for bids in late May with the bid opening scheduled for June 21, Hastert said.

Hastert said the two-phase project should be “paved and ready to certify” by Oct. 15. He said the full approaches, which include flight path electronics, would be completed and certified by the FAA by Dec. 15.

“That’s a date set in stone by the FAA,” Hastert said.