PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia International Airport now has clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin a $5.2 billion expansion program that will run until 2025.

The plan calls for construction of a third major east-west runway, new terminals and an automated people mover to whisk passengers between terminals both above and below ground.

Without the expansion, airport officials say delays and congestion will grow exponentially. Philadelphia is already the fourth most congested airport in the country, with average flight delays of 10 minutes. But passenger traffic is expected to double by 2030 to 60 million passengers per year. That could mean average delays of 19 minutes per flight.

“It would put us into gridlock,” says Airport CEO Mark Gale. “It would get to the point that both airlines and passengers would not want to fly through Philadelphia.” Gale says that could cost the region thousands of jobs for years to come.

But the improvements, which have been in the planning stages for 10 years, mean delays would shrink to an average of five minutes per flight. The airport’s longest runway would also be lengthened to 12,000 feet. That could make the airport much more attractive to carriers with longer-haul flights, like those to Asia, Africa and South America, potentially boosting the region’s economy.

“Without doing those improvements, that traffic won’t materialize, those jobs won’t materialize,” Gale said.

Building the new runway near the Delaware River requires the airport to move the existing UPS air cargo facility to the other side of the airfield. The only problem: 72 homes and 12 businesses sit where the new UPS complex would be built. Those residents, who occupy a corner of the Lester section of Tinicum Township are adamant against moving.

“It will be a lot more expensive,” said Kimberley Troxel, who’s lived in her Manhattan St. home for nearly a decade. “If I go somewhere else, it’s going to be a lot more money per month.”

“I have no qualms with the airport, just the expansion of it,” said Hank Hox who lives a block away. “I see no reason why they have to take these three streets.” Hox is retired and owns his home outright.

“I’m going to have to go back to work so I can pay my higher taxes and my mortgage which I don’t currently have,” he said.

Right now there are still plenty of moving parts. Any construction is not expected to begin for at least two years. The airport does not have eminent domain power because the neighborhood officials are hoping to buy is in Delaware County. So in the interim, officials have to negotiate sales with all the affected homeowners and businesses.

UPS and the airlines also have to buy into the plan. It will be financed with airport bonds, which are paid for by airline fees and airport concession charges.

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Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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