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Charlotte Airport Parking Deck Construction Proceeds Quickly

Wed December 12, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport needs more parking. But this location — the sixth busiest airport in the world — also needs to continue functioning as it has been for years. The airport will face the challenge of maintaining day-to-day operations while constructing a new 7,000-space parking deck as quickly as possible. The airport’s new facility will be used for both hourly parking in front of the terminal as well as contain the rental car ready-return facilities for the rental cars operating on the field.

Currently the rental operation is adjacent to the terminal facility in an area that will be used in the future for an international terminal. There was a definite need to relocate the rental car facilities. This project will move part of the rental car operation.

The bottom floor of the new deck will be used for the Quick Turn-Around (QTA) facilities where rental car operations will be able to fuel, wash and move the cars back up to levels two and three to rent them out again.

The new parking decks will replace the current 2,700-space park deck situated in front of the airport’s terminal building. By the time the project is complete there will be additional hourly parking capacity plus new parking for the rental cars in that space.

Jack Christine is assistant aviation director over development at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Christine covers all the planning design and construction for the entire airport facility.

“We had to design and engineer this facility to be constructed in the middle of the front door of the terminal, a unique challenge,” said Christine. “This is a location where the operation has to continue all through the day and night while we are under construction; that was one of the tests we faced.

“Another trial came with having to design a fuel system which is essentially inside of a building. This is a fuel dispensing system that you would not typically see inside of a parking facility. As far as we can tell we’re the only facility in the state of North Carolina to have ever done something like this.”

This segment of the new facility made permitting a challenge. Those issues were resolved and the project is now under construction, according to Christine. The project has to be done in a staged approach because the existing hourly decks are still operating. This was approached by building the back half of the parking deck — which covers the surface parking lot which was taken out of service — to get the project moving.

That part of the project is currently being worked on. The contractor is now vertical on the second story as it’s finished the slab-on-grade for the other side that it’s working on. All of that work is being done in advance of tearing down the old deck. The demolition of the old deck will take place after the first of the year. The hourly decks currently in front of the terminal are actually two halves.

The west half will come down on January 13 and the east half of the existing deck will be demolished in March 2013. Once that happens, the contractor will have full access to the site and can continue to work through that area to start construction on the rest of the deck. That approach was taken because the airport wanted to maximize their ability to gain parking revenue for as long as they could and then find that sweet spot where they took the decks down and started building frantically to get the new deck up as quickly they could, according to Christine.

“Where we are now is that we started the project in November 2011 and we are planning on moving into the deck in November 2014,” added Christine. “Initially we had anticipated that we would build the full back half of the deck first and occupy it before we took the hourly decks down, however, that would have had us finishing in March 2015. We figured out that by tearing down the hourly decks early we could pick up some extra months where we could get more money in the new deck rather than trying to string along the old one; that set the timeline to finish in November 2014.”

Christine admits as well, that this is actually not the most complex project that they are currently undertaking.

“While this one is complex, the most complex one is the inline baggage system that we’re working on inside the terminal itself,” Christine said.

“That requires a lot of coordination because that again, is an active area where we have the existing baggage handling system which we cannot reduce capacity on throughout the period of the whole project. We have to build pieces of this, get it online and replace the old stuff before we start service with the new system.”

The parking garage is complicated from an operational perspective because all the work is being done in front of everyone — including people who simply need to get to the airport in a hurry.

“Our job is to try to build this in a way that minimizes the customer impact and in a way that gets them to their airplane as quickly as they can — while still getting the project built,” Christine said.

This is a seven-story deck, with a lot more of the floors yet to be constructed. The concrete being used is standard. Archer-Western is the general contractor on the job and they have subcontracted out much of the job.

“Archer-Western from our experience so far has been a great contractor to work with,” added Christine. “They sequence the work to get in and out to the different jobs as quickly as they can. They’re very cognizant of the challenges that we have because they do share in them.

“We work very closely with them to make sure that we are both helping each other out to the best of our ability to make the job go as smooth as we can with all those operational constraints that we have; there are a lot of them. So far we’ve been very happy with the way it’s going.”

Some 4,400 piles will have been driven into the ground by the time the job is over. Approximately 37 percent of those are now done, enough to complete the back one half of the new deck, minus one of the helixes which will get done shortly.

Another challenge came with the fact that the airport did not have total access to all of the aspects of the site because the Democratic National Convention was in Charlotte in late summer 2012. Many trees had to be removed to get some of the piles installed. Some utility lines also had to be moved. But the airport did not want to disrupt any of the landscaping until after the convention had ended. As a result the work had to be sequenced a little bit differently so as much work as possible could be done.

“This didn’t really slow us down so much as re-sequence the work so we could tear the trees down after the convention left town. The area where the trees were removed from will then become the rest of the deck. In designing this parking deck we’ve moved it further away from the terminal building so that we can make space for an expanded terminal curb front roadway and an expansion to the terminal lobby that will come in the future. But we need to get that spacing correct now so that we can do those projects as we get funding and have a need for them.”

This new airport expansion project will eventually extend the existing building 90 ft., making the lobby larger to contain additional checkpoints. Airline ticket counters will be reconfigured as will some baggage claim areas on the lower level to help passengers move through that part of the building. These projects will be done within the next several years.

The airport authority had some rain days built into the parking deck construction contract. So far they’ve been tracking well with that, according to Christine.

“This year’s rainy summer hasn’t really affected the schedule too much,” said Christine. “But we are ready for some drier weather now for the next few months. Once the work gets above slab on grade the work gets a lot easier, then everything is just straight up. The difficult part is getting up out of the ground.

“Most of the soil was easy to work with. There were some wet spots and some areas needed to be replaced, but for the most part it was fine. That’s what we deal with more, moisture in the dirt rather than bad dirt. After trying a few things to deal with soil that’s not working, eventually you simply decide to replace it,” said Christine.

The air traffic control tower for the Charlotte-Douglas Airport is right behind this parking deck. There were a series of steps that had to be taken in order to get approval from the FAA to have the tower cranes in place in order to construct a deck in the vicinity of a control tower, especially from a visibility perspective.

“That took a little while to get ironed out,” added Christine. “But there were a total of five tower cranes that were being used at different points during construction and the FAA had to sign off on all of that.

’That wasn’t so much of a challenge as it was a significant step to make sure that they were in line with what we were trying to do. The issue was simply one of a visual perspective and the FAA has plenty of radar equipment in order to see the whole airfield; they can still see everything with all the tower cranes up. We just had to prove to them that we weren’t blocking the airfield. The cranes may obstruct some view on the ramp, but they don’t control that part. They control the taxi lanes and runways.”

The airport had to do some line-of-sight studies and walk the controllers through on how things were going to look from their perspective so that they understood what things were going to look like before the cranes went up. Another important step was the permitting of the deck with the fueling for the rental car facilities in it.

Those involved with this project had never seen anything like this before and it took awhile to get that process completed so that there was satisfaction with what they were going to build. The purpose for this setup was when the rental car companies accept a car back after it’s been rented and all they’ve got to do is clean it up and fuel it, they can do it within the parking deck and not have take it to an offsite facility and then drive it back. Operationally and financially it doesn’t make any sense for them to have to drive cars back and forth, according to Christine.

“That’s why it was so important for this facility to have that car wash and fueling in the building so that they could do that and get it back up on the floor for folks to rent again. Fueling and washing the cars off site was a non-starter out of the gate. In order for the rental car companies to have fueling, that fueling had to be in the deck. There is not enough room around the facility to have that fueling anywhere else. There are some other airport facilities where the fueling is located off the outside of the deck, but in this case the fueling had to be inside of the deck in order for the operation to work. San Jose California has an airport deck with a different layout than Charlotte’s but the functions are very similar to what is being done at this airport,” said Christine.

The five tower cranes are Linden cranes rented by Archer Western from Heede Southeast. Archer Western supplies all the erection and dismantling of the cranes as well as the operators for the cranes.

This project is being funded by two different airport bond sources. The rental car portion of the deck is being funded through a special facility bond that is backed by the contract facility, which charge revenues that the Charlotte airport gets from the rental car companies, something called a CFC.

That CFC is a charge per day that’s added to the rental for a car that is rented at the airport. This money is in turn remitted to the airport for funding of rental car facilities only. Some CFC cash is used to fund that portion of the project. The balance of the project, for the hourly portion of the deck, is being funded through a general airport revenue bond issue that was done in November 2011. This is a $120 million dollar project and this is how it is being paid for.

The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport has the cash in hand and it is being spent as quickly as it can be spent, according to Christine. “For major airports, such as ours which is owned and operated by the city of Charlotte, yet which also is operated as an enterprise fund, means that we generate all the revenues that are spent on the airport. We don’t use one penny of general tax fund dollars to operate the airport. The money that we generate pays our bills and also funds the debt service for the construction that we do.”

Originally the airport was built on farmland and forested areas near the city. Charlotte’s airport was originally constructed as a WPA project and was in turn operated as Charlotte’s airport for a period of time before the federal government took over the airport during World War II. At that time it became a bomber training base called Morris Field.

After the war the airport was turned back over to the city of Charlotte which has operated it on its own, set up as an enterprise fund. When the new terminal development was started, general obligation bonds were issued, however they weren’t backed by the taxpayers but by the airlines operating at the airport. That’s what funded the current facility. “Smaller airports without the ability to raise enough revenue do use some general fund money,” said Christine.

This project is using some 180,000 plus cu. yds. (137,620 cu m) of concrete for the whole facility. It will cover 3.2 million sq. ft. (297,289 sq m) total and there will be some 200 plus employees working at peak times during the construction of the new parking facility. The countless travelers passing through the doors of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport will most likely hardly notice all the many changes going on in their midst — and that’s just fine with the busiest airfield in the Carolinas, the 6th busiest in the world.

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