Engineers and staff at Tulsa International Airport are thinking three years ahead.
In 2009, the airport's 10,000-foot main north-south runway will be closed for six months for major reconstruction estimated at $7.5 million.
But the main north-south runway is closed this month to allow contractors to build 4,500 feet of taxiways valued at $12.2 million. Construction of the taxiways will permit commercial airliners to use the 7,695-foot east-west crosswind runway in 2009 during the time it will take to reconstruct the main runway, airport officials said.
"We closed the main runway Oct. 1, and it will remain closed until Nov. 1," Airports Director Jeff Mulder said during a tour of the airfield Friday.
The work will not affect flight schedules at the airport. It has, however, altered the paths of airplanes as they take off or approach the facility.
Mulder pointed to excavations at the edge of the main runway where the $8.2 million, 3,000-foot new construction on Taxiway Charlie intersects the main runway. Taxiway Charlie is the pavement that runs parallel and south of the crosswind runway. It permits aircraft to taxi to and from the passenger terminal gates from the crosswind runway.
"To meet Federal Aviation Administration safety standards, you can't have more than a two-inch drop off of the surface of a runway," Mulder said. "If you do, you have to close the runway. The reason is that if an aircraft goes off the runway, the FAA wants it to be safe, so there is as little damage as possible."
Taxiway Echo, which runs parallel and to the east of the main runway, is in two unconnected sections now.
North of the crosswind runway, Taxiway Echo runs 7,000 feet past American Airlines' hangars. New construction of 1,500 feet of taxiway is splicing the northern portion of Taxiway Echo with 1,500 feet of the taxiway at the south end of the main runway. The cost of the new Taxiway Echo construction is $4 million, Mulder said.
About 200 construction workers from Tulsa-based Keck Construction Inc. and Sherwood Construction of Oklahoma Inc. are building the concrete taxiways, which will be 75 feet wide and 18 inches thick. They are working 24 hours a day to complete the projects by the end of the month.
While the main runway is closed, other crews are applying chemicals and water to the pavement and using truck-mounted rotary brushes to scour the rubber buildup from the runway. The black skid marks are where aircraft touch down on landing.
"When a 150,000-pound airplane lands at 150 mph, it leaves a lot of rubber on the runway because of the force of the landing," Mulder said. "It covers up the pavement markings that direct pilots in bad weather. The FAA requires us to keep the runway surface clean."
The new taxiway construction will make the airfield more functional and user-friendly for pilots and airport tenants, said Jeff Hough, deputy airport director of engineering and facilities.
"Taxiway Echo will give us a full taxiway on the east side of the main runway," Hough said. "It means the Oklahoma Air National Guard, American Airlines and Spirit AeroSystems will be able to taxi the full length of the runway and not cross an active runway, which is a huge safety benefit.
"Taxiway Charlie will give us the same benefit, but we won't get the full benefit until we extend it 2,000 feet to the end of the crosswind runway next year."
Mulder said it's like avoiding the crossing of a busy street.
"It's all about traffic flow on the airfield and reducing delays," he said.
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