McMinn Airport Expansion to Support Business Travel

Wed September 28, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

A $2.8-million renovation project at the McMinn County Airport near Athens, TN, is the first of several projects over the next few years that will help the airport better serve businesses and corporate aircraft.

Work began late last year.

Four contractors are involved in the current project. L. Murphy Enterprises in Athens is the prime contractor on the $100,000 road-relocation project. McKinney Excavating Inc. in Athens is the prime contractor on the $1.1-million grading and drainage project for runway and taxiway extension. The prime contractor for base and paving for runway widening, runway extension and taxiway extension is the Rogers Group Inc. in Oak Ridge, TN, $1.25 million. Jaco Airfield Construction Inc. in Eastonton, GA, is the prime contractor for runway lighting at a cost of $350,000.

Other work is in the planning stages and will take two to three years to accomplish. Approximately $3 million will be spent on the remaining projects.

“Work on the road began last fall and was completed this summer. Grading work for the runway/taxiway began around mid-May,” said Robert Beene, McMinn County engineer, who is coordinating the project.

A section of County Road 561 was closed and alternate routes were provided by upgrading portions of CRs 571, 580 and 559 and building a short connector road from CR 561 to CR 560.

Murphy is the only contractor that has completed its work, said Beene.

“The other three contractors should be complete by sometime in November,” he added.

Beene said the paving contractor, Rogers Group, is responsible for the excavation along the sides of the existing runway to accommodate the base and paving for widening the runway on each side.

Rogers Group subcontracted the excavation work to McKinney Excavating, which began that part of the project Sept. 12.

“I am proud our county leaders recognized the value of our airport to the area, and had the vision and determination to pursue this major and ongoing expansion,” said Beene, who has been employed by the county for nine years. “The county leadership worked so hard to plan and budget McMinn County out of debt.”

The 40-year-old McKinney Excavating, which started with a single bulldozer, began its main contract in May and completed the job in September.

Dan Sheffey, estimator/project manager of McKinney, had general administrative oversight of the job for the McMinn airport.

Approximately 450,000 cu. yds. of material was moved to expand the runway an additional 1,500 ft. Approximately 1,700 ft. of pipe was installed.

Sheffey added, “The majority of the 450,000 cubic yards was moved with a pair of Caterpillar excavators and Cat D300 trucks. Fill was also moved with a fleet of Fiat 260 scrapers and Cat D8 push tractors. The fill was compacted with a Cat 825 compactor.”

The work proved run-of-the-mill.

“There really wasn’t any challenges to the project. It was basically just to move a lot of dirt,” said Sheffey.

He noted the company’s contract time did not expire until the end of November, but that “We are well ahead of schedule. We expect to be totally complete by the end of October.”

Aviation in McMinn County

According to Beene, the airport was first paved in the early 1960s.

“I would say that was probably when it first began to be attractive to corporate and business users,” he added.

McMinn County has been served by numerous airports. The earliest was a grass field located at the present day site of Texaco Distributing Company in Athens. The current airport was originally part of both county- and privately-owned property. The original air strip consisted of a 1,800 ft. grass strip.

Private funds were used in the early 1960s to expand the airport. As a result of the expansion, the air strip was extended to 3,500 ft. and paved. The air strip was lengthened again in the 1970s to 4,000 ft. and later to 4,500 ft. in the 1980s.

“The project currently under way at the McMinn County Airport is definitely the most complicated modification or upgrade of an existing general aviation project that we have ever undertaken in any single project,” said Kim Keelor, a spokesperson of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which includes an aeronautics division.

She said the work is just one phase of what will be several projects spread over several years that will allow the airport to support business travel.

“The airport has been and will continue to be important to this community, as not only do the local industries utilize the airport, but some have said the access provided by the airport was the deciding factor in their decision to locate plants in McMinn County,” said Keelor.

“McMinn has committed to expand their airport to meet the needs of their community. They have also committed to correct the deficiencies to federal standards identified on the airport layout plan and to correct identified safety problems to provide a safe and efficient facility for their users, both existing and future.”

The current project involves:

• Relocating the south end of the runway by 950 ft. to the north to provide space for the runway safety area.

• Extending the runway 1,450 ft., resulting in a total runway length of 6,450 ft. (5,500 full use and an additional 950 ft. restricted for use in take-offs or landings in one direction).

• Widening the runway from 75 to 100 ft.

• Resurfacing the existing runway pavement.

• Constructing a runway safety area to the north meeting all federal dimensional standards for this category airport.

• Constructing a partial parallel taxiway to the new north end of the runway.

•¬†Installing a new medium intensity lighting system, visual landing aids and control vault.

• Closing and removing a section of a county road.

• Constructing a short section of replacement county road to maintain automotive access in the area.

Keelor said federal discretionary funds have been identified to assist with the next phase of necessary improvements and that is “good news” for Tennessee and McMinn County. CEG

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