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South Florida Airport Runway Under Way

Wed July 11, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

After more than 18 years of planning and debate, work finally began in late January on a new, 8,000-ft.-long (2,438 m) runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

The huge $791 million South Runway Expansion Project should be completed and ready for landings and takeoffs in September 2014, according to airport officials.

Runway 9R-27L, located on the south side of the airport and running parallel to Griffin Road, is now being rehabilitated and lengthened. In its old configuration, the runway was only 5,276 ft. (1,608 m) long and was deemed unsuitable for the increasing amount of air traffic coming into the airport. It was closed on April 17 and construction of the new landing surface is going on top of it.

Unique Design Features

While it is interesting to note that Broward County was able to fund such an expensive venture in a recession, the design elements of the new runway are even more intriguing.

The fact that the new runway will be elevated more than six stories above ground level at its eastern end makes it one of only a few elevated runways in the United States. In addition, it will be only the second runway in the country — the first is at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — to span a federal highway.

According to Allan Siegel, the community outreach coordinator for the Broward County Aviation Department (BCAD), Runway 9R-27L will be elevated to 65 ft. (19.8 m) at mean sea level so that it can extend over both the Florida East Coast Railway and U.S. Highway 1. As a result, cars, buses and trains will all pass under the runway in tunnels.

The expansion will bring the new runway more in line with the main landing surface at the airport, Runway 9L-27R, which is 9,000 ft. (2,743 m) long. It is located a few thousand feet to the north and runs parallel to the new surface. A third runway runs diagonally across the other two, but will be closed when the new runway is operational.

The new landing surface will actually be almost 9,400 lineal ft. (2,865 m) long end to end with the construction of an additional 600 ft. (182 m) “Engineered Materials Arresting System” (EMAS), which uses materials with the strength and density to stop or greatly slow an aircraft that overruns the runway. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires commercial airports to have a runway safety area where possible. EMAS surfaces are generally made up of lightweight, crushed concrete.


Runway Needed

Right now, on a typical day, 621 commercial flights and 125 private flights use the airport’s two operational runways, with more than 60,000 passengers moving through the airport’s four terminals.

But with FAA forecasts of increased takeoffs and landings at the airport, Broward County officials decided almost two decades ago to replace Runway 9R-27L. The tortuously slow turnaround time from concept to groundbreaking was due to the typical public concerns about need, design and environmental impact, among other factors.

“The new runway will help balance the airfield, as far as traffic is concerned, and will alleviate congestion and delays,” Siegel explained. “The need for the new runway was indicated in the FAA’s Environmental Impact Study as enhancing safety, efficiency and capacity on both a regional and national level.”

Additionally, Siegel said that the project will add gate and ramp capacity to address future passenger demand and aircraft congestion.

Passengers Shouldn’t

Be Affected

Current construction at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International chiefly involves earthmoving, but even as the work increases in the coming months, officials don’t expect much impact on passengers traveling in and out of the airport.

South Perimeter Road, which runs right though the construction zone, was closed in April, but passengers are able to access the main entrance via Lee Wagener Road on the west and Griffin Road on the south. Foot traffic at the airport has not been impacted at all, Siegel said.

Closing South Perimeter Road allowed earthmoving to begin in that area. In the coming months, concrete bridge and tunnel work also will start up at the rail bed and at U.S. 1. The rest of the runway will be built on dirt.

To help the runway achieve its 65-ft. elevation at the eastern end, earthmovers are building up a slight 1.3 percent incline beginning at about the midway point of the landing strip.

A Big Project

Make no mistake: this runway project is one massive job.

That was illustrated by the figures cited by David Roepnack, the expansion project administrator at BCAD:

• More than 2.6 million sq. ft. (241,548 sq m) of asphalt is being demolished and more than 10 million cu. ft. (283,168 cu m) of unsuitable soil is being removed

• Embankment soil for the runway and side slopes totals 149.5 million cu. ft. (4.2 million cu m) (enough to fill and spill over the Louisiana Superdome)

• About 567,000 cu. ft. (16,056 cu m) of topsoil is being trucked in for sod and seed areas

• The total amount of earthwork fill is projected at more than 223 million cu. ft. (6.3 million cu m) (more than twice the volume of Egypt’s Pyramid of Giza)

In order for the ground to support the fill, Roepnack said a number of geotechnical soil improvements are being utilized. The type used will depend upon where in the runway the soil improvement is being performed. No single system could be used throughout the project, he added, as each has specific constraints, expectations, costs and end-results.

“Under the runway/taxiway structures the use of precast concrete piles will be predominant,” he explained. “Under the runway/taxiway areas to the west of the new structures, dynamic compaction and vibratory compaction will be used. Beneath several of the new vehicle roadways, stone columns will be erected to improve the soils, and in the area east of the runway/taxiway structures, the soil will be strengthened through the use of overburden loading and vibratory compaction.”

A Busy Site

Roepnack’s job is to oversee the work of the large number of consultants and contractors involved in the building of the new runway for BCAD. The lead design consultant is Atkins North America, while the runway construction project manager is Parsons Transportation Group. The firm of Tutor Perini Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Venture is designing and building the runway/taxiway bridges and tunnels, which includes elevating the runway over the railroad and U.S. 1.

A number of cranes are currently on-site driving pile for the overpass foundations, Roepnack said. Among them are two Manitowocs (with another to come later), three Link-Belts and one Grove RT.

A great deal of earthmoving equipment also is busily moving dirt at the project site, including a number of Caterpillar bulldozers, excavators, front-end loaders, backhoes, rollers and earthmovers.

“As we are really in the beginning stages of the project, a number of additional pieces will be added as the contractors’ ramp up the work,” Roepnack said. “At the peak, we expect to have 400 to 500 construction workers on-site at any given time.

“Right now we are running them in shifts six days a week,” he added. “Two 10-hour shifts a day are going as early as 5:30 in the morning and running until 1 o’clock the next morning.”

With an estimated 11,000 construction jobs over the life of the project, Siegel foresees an economic impact of as much as $1.4 billion.

“At the height of construction in 2013, we estimate spending $1 million per day in construction activity,” he said.

Eric Olson

A writer and contributing editor for CEG since 2008, Eric Olson has worked in the business for more than 40 years.

Olson grew up in the small town of Lenoir, NC in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he began covering sports for the local newspaper at age 18. He continued to do that for several other dailies in the area while in college at Appalachian State University. Following his graduation, he moved on to gain experience at two other publications before becoming a real estate and special features writer and editor at the Winston-Salem Journal for 10 years. Since 1999 he has worked as a corporate media liaison and freelance writer, in addition to his time at CEG.

He and his wife, Tara, have been married for 33 years and are the parents of two grown and successful daughters. His hobbies include collecting history books, watching his beloved Green Bay Packers and caring for his three dogs and one cat.

Read more from Eric Olson here.

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