Despite strong vocal opposition from residents, Broward County, Fla., commissioners decided June 5 to move forward with plans for a $694- million expansion of Fort Lauderdale- Hollywood International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration considers the airport as one of the fastest-growing in the country.

Commissioners voted 6-3 in favor of lengthening a 5,300-ft-long runway to 8,000 ft by 2012, after listening to protesting citizens at a standing-room-only public meeting in a 1,200-seat convention center ballroom. The expansion will allow the airport to maintain annual aircraft delays below six to 10 minutes. The plan also adds a 75-ft-wide, full-length parallel taxiway and an outer dual parallel taxiway, eliminates a crosswind runway, and redevelops terminal gates.

The plan, produced by Landrum & Brown, Cincinnati, requires closing a perimeter road, acquiring a local hotel, displacing a maintenance facility and partially displacing Jet Center facilities. The airport will have to provide noise relief for 1,051 nearby homes.

The comment period for FAA's draft Environmental Impact Study closed May 21. FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen says the agency will address issues and release a final study and FAA-preferred plan early next year. A Record Of Decision will follow 30 days later. If FAA's preferred plan does not match the commissioners', Broward could still move forward with its plan if it mitigates environmental impacts, Bergen says.

The expansion has been in the works for more than a decade, says Greg Meyer, airport spokesperson. About 21 million passengers use the airport annually. FAA estimates average delays will jump from six minutes in 2005 to 26 minutes in 2020 unless the airport grows.

Carolyn Michaels, interim president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber voted to support a larger airport three years ago. She notes that airlines have already eliminated routes there because of crowded conditions. Even so, she expects the plan could be delayed for years if opponents pursue legal challenges.