Recent news describes the FAA's suspension of consideration of two potential locations for our new airport. Perhaps we could consider another location in the immediate vicinity of Fairfield but coupled with concomitant construction of light rail through the Smoky Mountains. The light rail would end in the Wood River Valley at a convenient north terminus with a parking and rental-car facility. Such a light rail would only require 26 miles of track with a single tunnel under Buttercup Mountain.
The advantages are numerous:
- The iconic gateway access to Sun Valley by light rail could be restored.
- It would be fun and romantic to arrive by environmentally-sound light rail and via the Smoky Mountain valleys.
- Travel time to Ketchum or the Sun Valley Resort would be unchanged or shorter, depending on where the north terminus is located.
- Highway 75 vehicle traffic would be reduced with environmental benefits:
- Through traffic to the airport would be reduced.
- Through traffic to Boise might be reduced if North Valley part-time residents locate a vehicle at the south terminus parking facility.
- Snow and weather closures would be limited; larger aircraft could be accommodated.
- Private pilots might find the site inviting because of easy access to the north Wood River Valley at reduced or equivalent travel time; this might enable consensual closure of Friedman.
- Camas and Blaine County economies would benefit from shared airport revenue, and construction and maintenance of the light rail. Construction of additional affordable housing in Fairfield with easy and direct access to the north Wood River Valley would be another possible economic outcome.
- Joint airport development with the Soldier Mountain Resort and its owner is possible.
- Likely overall additional cost may be less, even with construction of the light rail, given new and more substantial federal support for public transit.
- There would be limited impact on sage grouse habitat by airport construction in areas already developed for agriculture.