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The Quad Cities International Airport (QCIA) is right on target for removing its worrisome and ofttimes confusing runway design feature – the bullseye. The bullseye is a point in the middle of the Moline airfield at which all three runways intersect. The potential for human error at the juncture has long concerned the QCIA, which has launched a new $10 million capital improvement project to improve the layout. “We’re one of only two airports where three runways still intersect at a single point,” QCIA Executive Director Benjamin Leischner told the QCBJ on a recent airport tour. The other, he said, is the municipal airport in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “This has been an area of concern for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration),” said Mr. Leischner, a commercial instrument pilot himself. He added that the bullseye intersection “can be confusing for pilots.” While no serious incident has occurred due to the intersecting runways, he said “the project has been a long-time coming.” Mr. Leischner said “We’ve had multiple pilot incursions” at the bullseye, which is when a pilot pulls onto the wrong paved surface. While the airport has taken measures to improve safety there including improved runway lighting and additional directional and runway markings, the plan now is to remove the bullseye configuration, which will improve the airport’s geometry and ultimately, airfield safety, he added. In April, crews with Rock Island-based Valley Construction began demolition work to remove 1,500 feet of existing pavement from the now 5,000-foot-long general aviation runway (Runway 5/23). The work will create a 3,500-foot-long runway that no longer extends into the bullseye – leaving only two runways intersecting, which is not uncommon. In addition to the demolition work, “We’re adding concrete to close the gaps in the taxiway,” said Ashleigh Davis, the airport’s public relations and marketing manager. That work will create a single continuous taxiway that will parallel Runway 9/27, which at 10,000 feet, or two miles long, serves as the primary commercial runway. According to Mr. Leischner, commercial and general aviation traffic will benefit from the changes. “The shorter runway will be closest to the general aviation hangars creating a campus that is separate from commercial traffic,” he said. “We’re keeping the 3,500-foot runway (Runway 13/31) and that’s good for general aviation.” But for those aircraft needing a longer runway, he said they still can use Runway 9/27 or Runway 13/31, which is 7,000 feet in length. The improved taxiway will be more efficient for commercial pilots, who now must make a series of turns to reach or exit the runways. No construction work is planned on Runway 13/31.
Construction underwayValley Construction Executive Vice President Adam Hass said the family-owned company won the project last fall and has been preparing for months coordinating schedules, ordering materials and working with the airport and engineering team. “We wanted it (the contract) because it’s all our core competencies and it’s an anchor project that you know you’ll have that job all this year.” While it also is a large construction job, Mr. Hass said “bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better in our industry. There’s bigger financial risk, but for us it’s the things we do well – removal of pavement, moving earth, installing pipe and big concrete pavement work.” On the job site since April, crews are currently demolishing runway pavement, separating metal rebar from it for recycling, and have set up operations on-site to convert chunks of concrete into gravel. Mr. Hass said the recycled material will become the aggregate base during the construction phase. Valley is no stranger to the airport, where it completed a major drainage improvement project last year. “Valley has been out here on some project every year since I’ve been here,” Mr. Leischner said. “It’s hard (for the public and others) to appreciate the magnitude of the preparations that go into a project because it all runs so smoothly.” Mr. Hass added “having the relationship we do with the airport is beneficial for both parties. We understand their expectations … and there’s somewhat a comfort level and trust the airport has with us that we take their requirements seriously.” Noting that the job was a competitive bid process, Ms. Davis said the airport is pleased to have kept the jobs local. “Since we were able to get (100%) federal funding, we’re able to reinvest that back into the community,” she added.
Nighttime closuresWhile the traveling public will not experience any schedule changes during construction, there will be intermittent runway closures to accommodate Valley and subcontractors. In fact, sometime this month, the airport will close down its runways overnight to allow work to take place inside the bullseye, Mr. Leischner said. “The FAA doesn’t allow you to get within a certain amount of feet to a runway when it is in operation,” Mr. Hass said, adding “We do have to work close to the main Runway 9/27, so we have to do that work at night.” “We’ll get to shut down about 11 p.m. and be back open by 6 a.m.,” he said. “We have to set up and tear down each night, so that will be an intense 30 nights.” In the past, Mr. Leischner said the FAA had allowed airports to build temporary runways to divert air traffic during construction. “We were the last airport where the FAA let that happen,” he said of a runway reconstruction project in 2011 long before his tenure. The only negative to shutting down overnight, he said, is that “since we essentially will be closed we can’t serve as the emergency backup to Chicago.”
Supply chain, worker challengesLike all construction projects big and small these days, the airport anticipated having its own supply chain issues on the project. Mr. Hass said purchase orders were placed last winter but the company already has been hit by supply issues. “Material that was supposed to be on-site already has been delayed for months. Promises of March turned into June and now November.” “Manufacturers are just not meeting commitments,” he said, adding that to keep on schedule, the project team is looking at alternative products that are more readily available. “We do not believe that our completion date is in jeopardy at this point,” Mr. Hass said. The project is expected to be completed by late November. But like the entire construction industry, he admits worker shortage is a real issue. “What we do is hard work and dirty work … We’re a union company and we pay well with great benefits. But it’s tough, we’re definitely challenged to get more staff,” he added. Add in scheduled nighttime work – required by the overnight closures – and it increases the recruitment challenge. But the work also means overtime and more hours for employees, Mr. Hass said. “If we are able to get over the supply chain hurdles, we think the job is going to go well,” Mr. Hass said. “We have a good plan on how to build it. The second half of the year there’s going to be a lot of work to accomplish, but we’re capable and have the manpower to do it.”
QCIA airfield project snapshotProject scope: A new airfield construction project will remove the “bullseye” configuration – the location that the airport’s three runways intersect. In doing so, the general aviation runway (Runway 5/23) will be shortened by 1,500 feet to become 3,500 feet long. Construction also includes a new taxiway parallel to Runway 9/27 (the primary commercial runway). Construction team: Lead contractor is Valley Construction, based in Rock Island; engineering consultant is Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. (CMT), with offices at the Moline airport; and the architect is Alliaance, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Project cost: $10 million (including $8.8 million construction costs). The project is funded 100% by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Job creation: The project is expected to have a crew of about 15 tradespeople working on any given day up to 30+ on sight during the concrete phase. In addition to Valley, a number of subcontractors are involved including Davenport Electric Contract Co. (DECCO), which is completing the project’s electrical work. Material volumes by the numbers:
- 67,000 square yards of runway and taxiway removal.
- 30,000 tons of recycled concrete to be put back in the job as the aggregate base.
- 60,000 cubic yards of topsoil and dirt moved on the project.
- 10,000 cubic yards of concrete poured for new taxiways.
- 10,000 linear feet of underdrain and storm sewers.
- 100,000 linear feet of wire and cabling for the new lights, signs and flight control systems.