Thursday, August 22, 2019

Airport Runway Repairs Update

[Last year I reported in some detail on the repairs and widening of Anchorage Airport's north-south runway, diverting jets to take off over Anchorage last summer and this summer.  This post is something of a follow-up]

I'd been meaning to call the airport and find out where they are on the fixing and widening the north-south runway.  After all, we've had almost no rain this summer (none in August, normally a rainy month) and so it seemed they should be ahead.  I got a couple of people who passed me on to Jason Lamoreaux and I left him a message yesterday afternoon.

He called back today.

It should be completed on time.  They have to (sorry my notes are sketchy) do some coordination of flight checks before the runway is back up.

Q:  But since you're a bit ahead now because of no rain, can't we get this done early so we can stop the noisy planes flying over Anchorage?

A:  FAA folks who do the checking come from out of town so hard to coordinate.

He told me I could sign up for the update emails, but I said, since the update video was from early 2018, I wasn't sure waiting for updates was better than just calling the airport.

The rest that needs to be done is some paving and painting and electrical which are weather dependent, so we can't predict finishing early.

So, basically he said it would be done by end of September and by beginning of October planes can use the north-south runway instead of taking off to the east over Anchorage.

I did look around on the website before calling to get as much info from there as I could. I did get to the runway project page. But the "Construction Update Video" appears to be the one they put up at the beginning last year.  It's pretty pictures and PR talk.  No real details at all.  And no updates.

The FAQ link goes to a bad link.

There's two maps - last year and this year, without much detail about the work.

These maps made more sense later, but they still don't show much.  The talk last year was that they were going to widen the runway so bigger planes could use it.  There's still only going to be one runway I guess.

So after looking around the site I finally found a number related to the project that I could call.

Today I took my son-in-law to the airport.  He's got to go back (but my daughter and nieta have more time here, yeah!).  So I decided to go see if I could find out what they were doing and how far they'd gotten.

Across the road and over the fence, past the tractor but in front of the plane, is the north-south runway.  We're looking northward.  (Yes the smoke from the various forest fires north and south of Anchorage totally obscured the mountains.)  So this part is in.

And here's the runway looking north.  It looks like it's paved all the way.  Lamoreaux did say it needed painting and electrical.  But there were parts that had stripes and little things sticking out of the ground that looked like they might hold lights.

And there didn't seem to be many people working.

This tractor was digging something.  This is another track of pavement that I thought, at the time, they still had to finish to the north end.  But when I got home and looked at the maps (above) that didn't seem to be the case.  Just one runway.  This must be a road or taxi way.  This was very close to the exterior fence.  (*You can see it on the map with the green and yellow markings below.  It's on the far left side.)

And here in the middle it was shiny - wet asphalt?  water?  something else?  I don't know.
There was equipment here and there, but I didn't see any movement.

So now I had more questions.  It doesn't look like the noise over Anchorage is much of a priority.  They've got until October and they seem not to be in much of a hurry.  OK, I can't make a judgment like that from one short visit to the airport.

But when I got home I went poking around on the website again and this time I found a little bit more.

I found the document library.  There's another map there and there are three 2019 updates.  One from January, one from March, which doesn't say anything they hadn't said before:
"2019 Construction
In 2019, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will rehabilitate and widen the remaining portion of the North/South Runway. The magnitude of this construction effort will require a full runway closure in summer 2019. Operations and noise levels will return to normal upon completion in October 2019."
And one from August 16, 2019 which says a little bit more.

"The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) North/South Runway Renewal project is progressing well through the final phase of construction. Active work on the runway started in April.  As of today, the construction work effort is about 75% complete.  All paving south of Taxiway T is complete.

Currently, the contractor is grooving the runway.  This will provide traction so that airplanes can come to a stop on the runway when it rains. Grooving the runway takes about 45 days to complete. Next up, the contractor will begin work on painting runway markings.
We recognize that construction has resulted in increased aircraft noise in different parts of Anchorage. The construction team is working hard to keep construction on schedule in order to minimize those impacts and complete the renewal work as quickly as possible.  We anticipate the runway will be open early October 2019, and the airport will return to normal aircraft operations."
Now I have a bunch more questions.  Mostly they have to do with why it takes so long.  How does it take 45 days to put grooves in the runway?  Really?  In China they build ten story buildings in three months.  I'm not sure I want to live in one of those, but putting grooves in the runway seems a lot less complicated than putting up a building.  

Besides, 45 days from August 16 gets us to the end of September.  That would mean it will NOT be the beginning of October.  (I'm hoping this is wrong.  It's not what I heard from Lamoreaux.)

It says (as of August 16 when the memo is dated) they are 75% done.  Counting just this summer, they had used up 75% of their allotted time.  But what about work?  Are they really only 75% done?  

What does completed mean here?  That the green part is all paved?  Because from what I saw today, the yellow part is paved too.  Does it mean the green is paved and grooved?  Surely it can't take 45 days to grove the yellow part.   Does it really need to take 45 more days to paint the lines and put in the electrical?

The website is treating us like children.  It's not giving us much information at all.  Lamoreaux didn't even mention grooving.  He just talked about painting and electrical.  The amount of time has more to do with scheduling.  There's work the FAA needs to do and their contractor will apparently only come as scheduled originally, not early if, because of the good weather, they ready for them ahead of schedule.  And the same is true with the FAA inspectors.

My sense is there's no need to rush - from the airport administration's perspective.  They really don't seem concerned about relieving us from the noise of jets taking off over our houses and whatever jet fuel exhaust is added to our air.  They've set what appears to be a fairly comfortable schedule and they're expecting to be able to say it was done on time and - we'll see, or not- within the budget.

*As I look at the map with the green and yellow, the tractor that was actually working today when I was there, seems to be at the end of the pavement on the left of the green/yellow markings.  So that stretch of pavement doesn't seem like it's going any further.

I expect that asking all these questions, at this point, probably won't make any difference.  They're scheduled to open the north-south runway at the beginning of October and until then we (depending on how close you live to the pathways of the jets) will continue to endure 24 hours a day of jets taking off over us.

But maybe we can find out when the runway needs to be repaired again, so we can start earlier to  get more consideration of noise in their planning process.


  1. There are very strict standards for paving and for the grooving of the pavement. The grooves are about 3mm wide and spaced about 25mm apart, and take a long time to cut.

    1. Thanks, Dennis, that's helpful detail on the grooves. Now, how about similar detail on "take a long time to cut." Say, how many hours to cut 100 square feet? And then how many square feet is the runway? How many crews are working on this? What's the fastest this could be done if we had the most efficient number of crews? How much has already been completed?

  2. You get the low bid, you get what you pay for. Not multiple crews. I suspect at the most there are 2 of the groove cutting machines in Alaska, and they are not cheap because specs are very tight. When I was watching the one grooving the Juneau runway a couple of years ago, the 20 ft wide machine was cutting at about 1 foot per minute. The grooves are perpendicular to the runway, i.e., across the runway. Pavement specs are very tight too.

    The engineers who created the bid documents probably took all this into account, and knew that a major runway paving job like this could take 6-8 months (Juneau's is shorter than Anchorage, 8857x150 ft, and it took 6 months).


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