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New and Improved Airport Runways

A key lifeline for rural Alaskans

The runway at Ambler with snow and without.

Photos courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

According to the Alaska Airports Association: “Alaska has 287 public use land-based airports, 44 heliports, and approximately 735 recorded landing areas (private, public, and military) total. Of course pilots land on many of the thousands of lakes and gravel bars across the state where no constructed facility exists.”

Where constructed facilities do exist, though, ongoing maintenance and upgrades are required, many mandated by federal law.

 

Current Airport Construction Plans

Most of the funding for airport projects comes from the federal government but is administered by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) with planning, design, and engineering done through its three regions: Northern, Central, and Southeast.

DOT&PF expects to have about eighteen airport projects under construction in 2014 with a combined cost of nearly $333 million, more than two-thirds of that will be spent on rural projects. Six of the eighteen airport projects in Alaska for 2014 include Runway Safety Area (RSA) improvements.

Many of these projects had not been either advertised or awarded at press time in early April. Some projects have already been awarded and work will either continue or begin this year. Multi-million dollar, multi-year airport construction projects dot the map from Barrow to Ketchikan. Airport construction is an ongoing activity in Alaska.

Dan Hall, vice president and Alaska manager for Knik Construction, says they have been building airports in Alaska for thirty-five years and the key to successful airport construction is research.

“The biggest challenge that we face is logistics,” Hall says. “Gravel has to be imported and can only be barged in during the summer months. Sometimes we need to travel down rivers that are having issues with low water, and we aren’t able to get the barges in on time to stay on schedule.”

Successfully bidding a rural airport construction project does come with a great deal of risk, he says.

“You have to do your homework and be very aware of the area you are working in and the potential obstacles you will likely face,” Hall says. “These are fixed firm prices we are dealing with here, and there is not a lot of flexibility on the side of the owner in regards to change orders and unexpected expenses.”

While most of the projects are in rural Alaska, the international airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks both have work slated.

A project at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to rehabilitate runway 7L/25R pavement and intersecting taxiways including lighting, signage, marking, grooving and under drain system was pending on the bid calendar and has an engineer’s estimate range of $50 million to $60 million.

QAP was awarded a $13.5 million ANC Taxiways M, L & Taxilane E2 Reconstruction project last June, and work continues this year.

Osborne Construction Company was awarded a $15.8 million construction contract at the Fairbanks International Airport last August for an Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Building Upgrade project and will continue working through 2014 and into 2015 with an estimated total project cost of $21.9 million.

 

Northern Region Projects

Northern Region projects include an estimated $3.6 million runway repair project in Barrow and a $6.3 million runway resurfacing project in Shishmaref.

The Ambler Sewage Lagoon Road and Airport Rehabilitation project was still out to bid at press time, and includes extending the main runway to 4,000 feet, and widening it, rehabilitating the operational surfaces and airport access road, and constructing a new 2.8 mile material site access road, among other improvements. The engineer’s estimate range is $10 million to $20 million for the project, which is expected to last three years.

Kotzebue Airport is in Stage 3 of its Airport and Safety Area Improvement project which will extend the RSA of the main runway to 400 feet on each end of the runway. The western extension will extend into Kotzebue Sound and will include realignment of the access road at the end of the runway, installing shore protection, and re-establishment of the longshore boat channel. The eastern extension will include realignment of the Kotzebue Lagoon channel and hillside terrain obstruction removal. Awarded to Brice, Inc. in October 2012, the $30.9 project began construction in 2013, and is estimated to be complete by October 2014.

The airport at Nome will be under construction this summer.

Photo courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

QAP is embarking on a $26.5 million project this June in Nome that will include expanding the RSAs of both runways from the existing 300-foot width to 500 feet. Expanding the main RSA length will shift the Snake River channel adjacent to threshold 10 in order to provide space for a non-standard 170-foot long Engineered Materials Arresting System, and the other end of the runway will have a 1,000-foot long safety area. Resurfacing taxiways E and F and repaving taxiways H and J are also included in this project, which is expected to near completion in the fall of 2015 with a possible extension into 2016.

 

Hooper Bay might get a new runway, contingent on federal funding.

Photos courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

Central Region

In Hooper Bay, a project to rehabilitate and extend the runway, relocate apron and associated utilities, construct a new snow removal equipment building, install navigation aids, and relocate the beach access road is anticipated to be advertised in July, with the date contingent upon federal funding availability. The engineer’s estimate range is $30 million to $40 million.

 

The Tunanak airport is being relocated to comply with federal mandates.

Photos courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

In Tunanak, QAP will be relocating the existing airport, which will include the construction of a taxiway, apron, access road, snow removal equipment building (SREB), and other improvements. The Tunanak project is expected to cost $19.9 million.

In Platinum, the airport runway is being extended 1,700 feet, and the runway lighting system will also be extended. The project is being done to enable large aircraft to use the runway. Knik Construction Company expects to complete the $2.7 million project in fall 2014.

In Koliganek, a project to extend and reconstruct the runway to 3,300 feet, replace runway lighting, and rehabilitate the taxiway and apron was anticipated to go to bid in April. Additionally, the existing SREB will be moved and rehabilitated and a second heated SERB will be constructed. The engineer’s estimate range is $5 million to $10 million. Mobilization is expected this summer and construction in 2015.

In the Aleutians, there is a $3 million RSA expansion project at Adak, and in Cold Bay there is a $3.7 million RSA expansion that includes relocating the medium-intensity approach lighting system.

In 2012, Knik Construction Company began work on the Unalaska airport project that included extending the runway and RSA; rehabilitating the runway, taxiway, and apron resurfacing; airport lighting; and drainage improvements. Additionally, the project includes the construction of chemical storage and snow equipment removal buildings. In total, these airport improvements are expected to cost $27 million with completion expected in October 2014.

The Kodiak airport improvements project was to be advertised in April to construct runway safety areas for Runways 7/25 and 18/36 to include all airfield lighting, signing, striping, relocation of FAA navaids and approach aids, and access roads as necessary. The engineer’s estimate for this multi-year project is $50 million to $60 million. Also at the Kodiak Airport, to be advertised and awarded with that is a project to rehabilitate the Devil’s Creek culvert that runs under Runway 2/25; engineer’s estimate range is $2.5 million to $5 million.

 

Southeast Region

DOT&PF’s Southeast Region awards more marine infrastructure projects than aviation, but there are some airport projects this summer. Knik Construction was awarded a $5.5 million contract last December for the Ketchikan airport taxiway and apron rehabilitation that included various airports surface preservation maintenance to be done in fiscal year 2014.

One project yet to be advertised in Southeast includes rehabilitating the pavement surfaces of taxiway A and the apron at the Petersburg airport; it has an engineer’s estimate of $1 million to $2.5 million, and scheduling is contingent on federal funding.

 

Emmonak is ten miles from the Bering Sea about a mile and a half up the Kwiguk Channel near the mouth of the Yukon River. Spring flooding in 2013 washed out a section of the new taxiway.

Photos courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

Unplanned Airport Improvement Costs

Thousands of hours and millions of dollars go into planning airport projects, but sometimes the elements decide when a project will be done.

Spring flooding is nothing new to the communities along the Yukon River, but when Emmonak experienced unusually high flooding in the spring of 2013, a fifty-foot wide section of the airport taxiway washed away, leaving the community compromised.

“When we have an emergency situation that comes up, we have to address those problems immediately. The runway at Emmonak was never out of service, but the taxiway was cutoff so there was no access to the apron,” says Jeff Roach, Northern Region planning manager for the Alaska DOT&PF. “We used a temporary walkway so passengers could cross over the missing section of the taxiway to the airport building.”

Only one aircraft could use the runway at a time, which meant it had to land, offload its passengers, and take off again before another aircraft could use the runway. As for cargo planes, they could land, but there was no way to offload the cargo.

“The reason this event was so significant for Emmonak was the timing,” says Roach. “The community was at the beginning of commercial fishing and construction season, and until the runway repair was completed, they couldn’t haul cargo in or out of Emmonak.”

To fix the runway, the FAA granted approval for maintenance and operations personnel to use materials on the airport apron to refill the missing section.

“Seven days after receiving approval, the taxiway repair was completed and back to its original width,” says Roach.

The cost for the repairs at Emmonak came in at $216,935, which was paid out of the state DOT&PF maintenance and operation budgets. “In a situation like this, we have to respond to the emergency first and worry about the price tag later,” says Roach. “Because the governor declared Emmonak a state of emergency, we were able to seek reimbursement from FEMA for the temporary repairs that were completed and have also applied for funding to bring the runway back to its original condition.”

“It was a team effort by the FAA and DOT to promptly respond to the damage at the Emmonak Airport,” says Roach. “It was important to us to get the facility operational as soon as possible because airports are a key lifeline for these rural communities.”

Paula Cottrell writes from Anchorage.

This first appeared in the May 2014 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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