Denver's Runway Repair Could Cause Jam

May 10, 2007
With 8/26 closed through June, gusts from the wrong direction could force takeoffs and landings onto the only remaining east-west runway.

Hope for decent weather for the next two months.

A wicked crosswind could restrict DIA, the world's 10th-busiest airport with six runways, to a single landing strip.

Work crews are ripping out and replacing 400 damaged concrete panels around runway 8/26, prompting the extended shutdown of one of Denver International Airport's two east-west runways.

DIA boasts four north-south runways. But with steady gusts from side to side they can't be used.

With 8/26 closed through June, gusts from the wrong direction could force takeoffs and landings onto the only remaining east-west runway.

June is typically the second- to third- busiest travel month of the year at DIA. Last June, nearly 4.4 million passengers used the airfield.

Chuck Cannon, DIA spokesman, said engineers picked this time for repairs because weather stats show it is the least likely period for strong west winds.

The concrete repairs are in response to surface cracking that has left many panels with loose chips that are hazardous to airplanes. Sucking in even thin concrete debris can damage jet engine turbine blades.

The cause of the damage is still being debated. DIA last year hired DMJM Aviation to study the problem as it embarked on a $30.6 million, three-year program to replace more than 3,500 concrete panels. The report is expected in three to six months.

DIA officials are looking into the possibility that a deterioration process called ASR - for alkali-silica reaction - could be a factor.

Poor-quality aggregate in the concrete can react with alkali in the cement, which is the glue that holds concrete together.

The process creates a gel that attracts moisture, leading to cracks when it freezes and thaws.

DIA officials discount the possibility that the damage is related to a controversy that erupted in 1993, while DIA was still under construction.

A now-defunct company built 8/26 and one other runway that account for 98 percent of the total runway damage. That company, Ball Ball & Brosamer, was accused by subcontractors of using less cement in its mix. It was sued by the subcontractors, had payments withheld by the city and eventually paid damages to the subs after two civil lawsuits, though it admitted no wrongdoing.

DIA officials say their tests on concrete samples have yet to find any with less cement than required.

From 1999 through 2004, DIA replaced between 13 and 36 of the 171,000 concrete panels each year.

But the work accelerated last year, when 19 panels were replaced on runway 7/25 and 34 were replaced on runway 16L/34R.

The largest repair job waits for next year. Crews will replace 1,989 panels on the taxiways and ramps serving runway 17R/35L.

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