- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AP) - A project to replace Offutt Air Force Base’s crumbling runway appears to be moving forward, but key questions have yet to be answered.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was optimistic following a meeting Wednesday with Maj. Gen. Timothy Green, the Air Force director of civil engineers. The meeting was prompted by efforts of Fortenberry and a task force he created to focus on the issue. Fellow U.S. Reps. Adrian Smith, R-NE, and Brad Ashford, D-NE, are a part of the task force.

Fortenberry said the Air Force plans to seek design contract bids for the runway by May but is still studying whether to do a partial or full replacement.

“From all indications the Offutt runway replacement is not a matter of if,” Fortenberry said. “It is a matter of when.”

The ongoing analysis is looking at the cost and strain that comes with moving the 55th Wing while the runway is under construction.

The situation carries major economic implications for the Omaha area. A deteriorating runway could eventually prompt the Air Force to move the 55th Wing to a different base, costing the area thousands of civilian and military jobs.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is also active in the effort to retain the Air Force unit at Offutt.

“Congressman Fortenberry has provided leadership on this issue and I will continue to partner with him and the members of this task force to ensure a bright future for the base,” the Ricketts said.

The 2016 spending package for the design of the runway is set at $7.5 million.

“Offutt plays a vital role not only in our district but also in defending our nation and I am fully committed to ensuring that we secure the funding necessary to complete the runway project,” Ashford said.

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