The most important transportation project for the next five to 10 years for Sonoma County is not a highway or a bridge. It is the extension of the runway at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

Why is less than 300 yards of additional runway so critical? Because our economic health -- and by extension jobs --  depend on it.

In the mid-1990s, the promising medical device technology company TriVascular located in Sonoma County in part because United Express was serving the market at the time.

Today, whether it is Seattle, Portland or Los Angeles, all of those destinations now served by Horizon Air, a broad spectrum of businesses from banks to high-technology have come to rely on these daily flights. Most recently, it is said a small technology company chose to locate in Sonoma County in part because of that service.

But welcome and as successful as the Horizon flights are, more robust air service is needed to support the future of Sonoma County's technology, professional services and tourism sectors that are so key to the region's prosperity.

For instance, air service to the national hub of Denver, Colo., with FrontierAirlines mentioned as a possible carrier, would increase the travel options to and from Sonoma County. One of the biggest users of Santa Rosa to Denver flights would almost certainly be Agilent Technologies, the North Bay's largest high-tech employer.

Agilent clearly is among  a handful of the region's most important companies and its employees travel frequently between facilities in Colorado and Santa Rosa. Air service from Santa Rosa would save key employees time, hassle and car trips.

Meanwhile, additional more convenient flights would support Sonoma County's growing tourism businesses -- among them hotels, wineries, vegetable farmers,, artisan cheesemakers and artists.

But all of this depends on extending the main runway from 5,115 to 6,000 feet so that medium-sized regional jets can safely land and take off. That's 885 feet vs. driving 65+ miles to SFO or Oakland airports.

Sonoma County residents have put up their own tax dollars to support major improvements to Highway 101. Those investments are already paying dividends to the economy. And residents in both Main and Sonoma in large majorities supported financing commuter rail across two counties. Under new leadership,  the agency in charge of SMART, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit,  appears poised to shake its history of second-guessing and self doubt to move forward.

An adequate and safe regional airport is the next vital piece toward a transportation infrastructure that will support the economy in the decades ahead....Brad Bollinger is editor and associate publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at bbollinger@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4251.