To give perspective to the scale of work being done at Bush, there are four concrete batch plants in operation around the clock, 36 different major projects, and at any given time 180 different construction companies at work on the 9,500-acre property. As Vacar points out, it isn’t possible to do everything concurrently, but much of it is being done that way successfully.
"When I put the scope of work together," says Willkie, who was the airport’s project manager, "it was clear that schedule was the most important thing. Whenever that’s true, you tend to do a lot of tasks concurrently rather than sequentially. In most cases, that works well.
"What you occasionally find is that
in the course of doing one task you sometimes uncover something that changes
how you would have done another task. There is the occasional inefficiency
from not doing it sequentially, but we made some contingency plans for
that and, in general, they worked. So we were able to compress the schedule
about as much as you can.
"The fact that there was no outcry of opposition meant that we didn’t have to redo a great deal of stuff following the publication of the draft document. That’s where things can really change on you."
Doing that many construction projects in a fully operational major airport is, of course, a significant challenge. In 2000, Intercontinental accommodated 463,000 aircraft operations, 35 million passengers, and 600 million pounds of air freight.
Passenger traffic is increasing at an estimated one million passengers every six months.
"What we’ve done,’’ Vacar says, "is we’ve hired a lot of consulting firms, project managers, and construction managers, and we’ve taken these projects and grouped them in ways that make a lot of sense. We’ve let the construction manager folks work with our staff as an extension of our staff to carry out the program."
Although there are literally dozens of people involved in the process of coordinating such a gargantuan effort, on the airport side in the forefront at Bush are airport manager Thomas Bartlett and deputy director for planning design and construction Eric Potts.
"It goes back to a lot of communication and coordination," Bartlett says. "I have staff members on the airport that attend all construction meetings. Each project has weekly meetings. Those meetings are twofold. One, on Eric’s side, he has representatives there making sure they’re constructing and building it the way they should — on time, on budget. At the same time I have a representative there highlighting the operational needs and necessities, telling them what times they can do such and such to keep the airport operational.
"I have a person that is dedicated from airport operations specifically to be out and about on the airport, working close, hand in hand, with the contractors to make sure things are done the way they should be. Our primary interest is safety."
Potts says tenant concerns, particularly those of the principal tenant, are always taken into account. "We meet with my counterpart from Continental once a week," he says. "We go over the coordination of their piece of the work and our piece of the work. We try to take tenant concerns and try to make sure we have those inside our construction plans and programs. They get to review the documents and they attend our program meetings."
Potts adds that his management team also has monthly meetings with outside agencies such as city and county public works to "coordinate the access and egress into the facilities."
A Multi-Billion Dollar Undertaking
The Houston Airport System currently has a tri-partite airport development program underway. In addition to major construction and renovation work at Bush Intercontinental, work is also taking place at it’s two other airports, Hobby and Ellington. The $3.6 billion project is
GEORGE BUSH INTERCONTINENTAL AIRPORT (IAH)
• New 8,500-foot runway
• Upgrade of current 6,000-foot GA runway to 12,000-foot departure runway and adjoining taxiways
• New 600,000-square-foot air cargo facility
• South taxiway bridge and apron expansion
• New consolidated rental car facility
• New midfield taxiway
• Renovations and enhancements to four terminals
• New 15-20 gate international terminal
• New and expanded parking garages and lots
The Houston Airport System is nearing completion on a Bush Intercontinental Airport Master plan, which details airport expansion plans through 2025.
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