The possibility of luring a commercial airline carrier to the Tuscaloosa National Airport is getting closer.
Tuscaloosa's City Council gave final approval in late June to award a $7.93 million contract to rebuild the airport's Runway 4-22. S.T. Bunn Construction Co. Inc., based in the city, will perform the work next year.
Completely funded through a federal grant, this work is meant to improve the runway's surface and durability to allow larger aircraft the ability to land at the local airport without special permission.
Currently, large aircraft like those that carry the University of Alabama athletic teams, require a waiver to land on the existing runway.
"Once this project is complete, we'll no longer have to do that," said Tera Tubbs, executive director of the city's Infrastructure and Public Services, which oversees the airport.
The City Council's public projects committee had earlier voted to unanimously award S.T. Bunn the construction contract. In addition, the Nashville, Tenn., office of Atkins, a construction/engineering consulting firm, was given a $369,361 contract to provide oversight services during the runway building process.
At 150 ft. wide and 6,500 ft. long, Runway 4-22 is the larger of the two runways at Tuscaloosa National Airport.
According to the city, the pavement on the runway has outlasted its expected lifespan and needs rehabilitation to maintain service to all aircraft which use the landing strip, including larger and newer aircraft from commercial airline providers.
As part of the construction, two taxiways will undergo reconstruction and reconfiguration, and short tie-in sections of eight other connector taxiways will be resurfaced, as well.
Additionally, crews will perform in-place full-depth recycling for the formation of a cement-stabilized base, asphalt paving, pavement grooving, pavement painting and airfield lighting.
Last resurfaced in 1995, technical requirements for asphalt and runway surfaces now make it difficult, if not impossible, for some large planes to land here.
In 2018, 180 such flights used the airport, but this total has exceeded 300 in recent years. Without a new runway, all this traffic is in jeopardy, city officials have said.
In April, the airport was awarded a $9.44 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. These funds were made available to 25 airports across Alabama through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, a federal program created to assist with the country's response to the pandemic.
With seasonal restrictions on when a major runway can be closed at the airport, the Tuscaloosa project is tentatively scheduled to begin construction on April 19, 2021. The construction contract is for 105 calendar days, resulting in a tentative completion date of Aug. 2, 2021.
The goal is to have the runway fully operational before the 2021 Alabama Crimson Tide football season beginning that fall, city officials said.
And as efforts continue to lure a commercial airline, a new runway will be needed before upgrades to the current terminal are considered.