PLATTSBURGH — This spring's temporary suspension on airplane travel at Plattsburgh International Airport to allow for reconstruction of the runway's midfield portion has made the terminal a quiet place.
But work to crack and rubblize the aging concrete raises quite a ruckus out on the airstrip.
According to Airport Director Chris Kreig, describing the project as a repavement of the runway is oversimplifying things, as it is a multi-step process.
Under fair skies Monday afternoon, guillotine-style 8600-H Badger Breakers slowly made their way lengthwise and widthwise across the runway, dropping 16,000-pound hammers every six inches to break the pavement, each hit vibrating through the ground underfoot.
Next, hammer-style MHB Badger Breakers worked to crush the concrete up into even smaller pieces. A roller with a "Z" pattern would eventually roll over the rubble, interlocking it into a subbase ready for a new asphalt layer to be paved over it.
The vast majority of the runway's concrete will be recycled through this process, though in some places, including one area close to the end of a repaved stretch completed in 2018, the 14-inch concrete layer was slated for complete excavation and replacement. There, a front-end loader worked to dispose of the scraps and a bulldozer laid out new gravel over landscape fabric.
Tearing out and disposing of all that concrete could have at least doubled the cost of the project, Kreig said.
“We’re saving money and we’re being a little more environmentally friendly, if you will, by leaving it in place and paving over the top of it (with asphalt)."
Two approximately 2,000-foot sections on the 11,759-foot runway's southern end underwent reconstruction completed in 2008 and 2018.
On April 13, when the runway's temporary closure went into effect, work began on 4,400 feet of the runway's midfield. That project, designed by C&S Companies of Syracuse, is set to be completed by June 22, per a schedule coordinated between the airport, airlines and other stakeholders.
Indeed, flights to Dulles International Airport through SkyWest/United Express or Orlando and Fort Lauderdale through Allegiant Air can be booked starting June 23.
Kreig said work is taking places 12 hours a day Monday through Friday, and that paving could start in the next couple weeks.
Days were built into the construction schedule to allow for inclement weather. Aside from paving, all other construction components can continue in any conditions, including rain or snow.
“I’m the last person that wants to be closing the runway, but it’s necessary," Kreig said. "It’s necessary for us to do this from a safety standpoint and just the age of the runway, the age of the pavement, it needs to be replaced.
"This is the best time to do it — circumstances have made this the best time to do it.”
COUNTY SAVES $650,000
The runway will be able to reopen once the midfield portion is complete since about 7,000 feet for landing, plus an additional 1,000-foot safety buffer between aircraft and construction, can be accommodated.
Throughout the summer, the airstrip's remaining 3,700 feet will undergo the same process. Between August and September, Kreig said, final markings will be put in, followed by grooving to allow water to run off the runway and prevent hydroplaning.
Combined with the prior two projects, $20 million has been invested into reconstructing the runway. The price tag of this year's project is about $12.5 million of that.
Under provisions of federal coronavirus relief legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration is covering the full cost of the project, saving the county more than $650,000, the 5 percent it would normally have to pay as airport sponsor, Kreig said.
And doing a larger project rather than smaller ones in order to prevent a temporary closure also helps to cut costs and is more realistic. Due to the specialization of their work, the project's general contractor, Rifenburg Construction Inc. of Troy, and subcontractors like Wisconsin-based Antigo Construction Inc., who are responsible for the rubblizing, book up and cannot simply come and go as the airport needs them, Kreig said.
“If we sent them away, there’s no guarantee we would get them back. It’s easier to get in, do everything and be done with it."
Kreig said the reconstruction will make for a smoother ride on the runway and reduce the burden on airport maintenance staff.
And it certainly doesn't hurt the quest to expand the airport’s slate of airlines and destinations.
“You want to keep your services, your infrastructure — you want to make that they're as good as possible, as attractive as possible," Kreig said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to ensure a safe operating environment so, in that regard, it’s an attraction. I mean, when this is all said and done ... we’ll have a 20-year runway.”
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