JFK - under the microscope

High-profile runway resurfacing tests advanced milling control technology

On June 28, New York’s JFK International Airport reopened the Northeast’s longest and busiest landing strip, the ‘Bay Runway’ ( 13R-31L) It is the nation’s third-longest at 14,572 feet, and was resurfaced with an 18-inch layer of concrete to yield an expected maintenance savings of $500 million over an expected 40-year life span, compared with an anticipated eight-year asphalt life span. Because JFK is a key
component in the nation’s commercial air-traffic system, the first phase of the $376.3 million project was put on a fast-track schedule of 120 days, with overall completion due in late 2011. Here’s a look at how the project came together.

In addition to financing from the owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the project received $73 million in Federal Aviation Administration and $15 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
Milling, grading, and paving subcontractor Intercounty Paving Associates, LLC of Hicksville, NY kept the first milling phase of the first phase on track by simultaneously utilizing a combination laser-Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) on multiple Roadtec RX-900 cold planers.

Preventing chronic delays

JFK has traditionally experienced problems with delays. According to U.S. DOT, it ranked 28th out of 31 major airports in on-time performance in 2009. The Bay runway is a key component of JFK’s infrastructure, handling about one-third of its annual operations and more than half of all departures, to the tune of about 440,000 flights and 48 million passengers in 2008.

To address the chronic delays, the general contractor, Sylmar, CA-based Tutor Perini, was awarded a $204 million contract to widen the runway from 150 to 200 feet to allow for new delay-reduction taxiways, among the improvements. The new shoulders along either side of the widened runway are 50 feet wide and sit adjacent to 30-foot-wide erosion pavement.

The runway will be the first at JFK to accommodate the massive new Airbus A-380 and also serve as a backup landing spot for the space shuttle. The taxiways have high-speed exits for landing aircraft, holding pads to enable planes to bypass those held on the tarmac, and a new drainage system; the sum total of the changes are designed to improve aircraft queuing and allow quicker departures and easier access between taxiways and terminal gates. According to the Port Authority, the improvements will reduce future delays by an estimated 10,500 hours.
Part of the Bay Runway had to remain open to traffic so that planes could taxi across the open portion between the terminals and the other runways. After the first phase, about 11,000 feet of the runway was to be reopened and the remaining 4,000 feet-plus were to be resurfaced in subsequent stages.

Procedural changes

Preparations began during night closures the month before the start date. Tutor Perini surveyors localized the jobsite using Intercounty’s GR-3 base station from Topcon Positioning Systems. The GR-3’s one-watt UHF radio left “dead zones” at both ends of the runway, typical in radio signal-dense airfield environments. So the surveyors set up Topcon’s 35-watt external radio, allowing them to position the base station along the runway, near the middle of the jobsite, providing full radio coverage without interference from voice traffic.

Also complicating matters were several unseasonably large snowfalls during February. Once control points were located, they had to be cleared before the shots could be taken and drifting snow routinely refilled the control point holes. These weather conditions would have made the conventional method of gridding and marking out the runway in time for early March milling difficult to impossible, making it clear that an alternative method of elevation control would be beneficial.

Even when construction scheduling is designed to minimize the effects of adverse weather, a few snags are inevitable. Despite the fact that Intercounty made adjustments on the Roadtecs to allow for unexpected issues with the lasers, the system turned out to be invaluable for milling efficiency.

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