GSC Replaces 10,000-Foot Runway in 59½ Days at Atlanta Hartsfield

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

At school, the rental car counter or home for dinner — there’s always a penalty for being late. The schedule of “liquidated damages” was particularly steep when Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) replaced one of its five major runways: $500 per minute for any delays to the re-opening.

GSC Replaces 10,000-Foot Runway in 60  59½ Days at Atlanta Hartsfield

With completion slated just two weeks before Thanksgiving, late was simply not a viable option at one of the world’s busiest passenger airports.

“It’s our biggest replacement to date, and it had one of the tightest schedules,” recalls Quintin Watkins, now airside area manager at ATL. “But we actually finished early: at 7 am the day before our midnight deadline.”


GSC Atlanta, a subsidiary of construction giant Kiewit Southern, was the contractor that pulled it off. Another company actually submitted a lower bid, but was ultimately not selected. “There was such a large discrepancy in bids (more than $24 million), we interviewed the low bidder about staffing and how they planned to tackle the project and ended up not qualifying them,” explains Watkins. When the dust settled, GSC replaced 1.5 million square feet of runway as well as an associated taxiway and entrances in just under 60 days — nearly $91.5 million worth of work — with no late fees.

In a synopsis distributed to team members after completion, GSC project manager Brian Watkinson referred to the massive replacement as the “project of a lifetime.” Crews roared enthusiastically as Delta Flight 1211 touched down on the newly paved runway. And two weeks later, more than 1.7 million passengers traveled through the airport during the busy Thanksgiving holiday.

Out with the Old

Runway 8R/26L was identified as ATL’s top priority for replacement in a routine pavement inspection performed every three years. The last major replacement at the airport was in 1999 — a $52 million, 200,000-sqare-foot project completed in 32 days.

“Runways are designed to last 20 years,” notes Watkins, who headed quality control for the 1999 project. “With good weather and regular joint maintenance, we’re getting 25 to 40 years out of ours.”

Runway 8R/26L was 37 years old in 2006 when crews tore out 250,000 square yards of material to replace the 16-inch-thick runway and associated taxiway and entrances. The runway’s graded aggregate base and the taxiway’s cement-treated base were removed and replaced with asphalt underlay. The underdrain system was also replaced before new 20-inchthick concrete pavement was installed.

Runway 8R/26L was 37 years old in 2006 when crews tore out 250,000 square yards of material to replace the 16-inch-thick runway and associated taxiway and entrances.

Watkins, then serving as a senior project manager at ATL, cites solid pre-planning by GSC and strategic use of a procurement period as instrumental in meeting the tight construction deadline. A 40-foot wide haul road was built parallel to the runway, badging requirements were completed and 8-foot fencing was erected prior to the closing of the runway. A massive cement plant was erected just outside the security site and guards were posted.

“When the 60-day clock started ticking, they were ready to go,” he recalls.

Once the runway closed, the project ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “For most of us, the job meant putting our lives on hold and giving the project our full attention,” says GSC’s Watkinson. “Looking back, I would be the first in line to do it all over again.”

Turn Up the Volume

Two separate plants were used to batch the low slump and Portland cement concrete mixes for the project.

The larger two-drum plant was connected to an air-powered conveyor and ice/ chiller system to produce the necessary volume of material below the 85º F specification. An air and pod system that simultaneously retrieved cement and fly ash from several silos pushed 10 tons of cement into the plant every 40 seconds.

In a word, Watkinson calls the amount of mix produced by the plants “astounding.” During the entire batching period, the on-site plant maintained a pace of 160 cubic yards of concrete per hour. At peak, the plant produced 10,000 cubic yards in a single day; 35,000 cubic yards in a single seven-day week. In turn, crews placed an average of 3,650 cubic yards of concrete per day.

The materials needed were consequently staggering. Daily deliveries included:

  • 10,700 tons of aggregates

  • 2,500 tons of cement (93 loads)

  • 625 tons of fly ash (23 loads)

Again, pre-planning was key. “A great deal of thought had to go into the selection of the proper equipment to produce this mass quantity of concrete,” notes Watkinson. “Several discussions with experts for each particular component in the process were held to fine tune our equipment needs. From the cement and fly ash conveyance system to ice making, each party brought insight and fresh ideas.”

Facts and Figures

Project: Runway Replacement

Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Cost: $85 million
($91.5 million with associated taxiway and entrances)

Contractor: GSC Atlanta, a subsidiary of Kiewit Southern

Details: 10,000-foot long, 150-foot wide concrete runway removed and repoured with 20-inch thick concrete. New underdrain system and center/edge lights also installed.

Key Participants

Designer: LPA Group, Pond Engineering, IMDC

Pre-Construction Inspectors: Acura Engineering, MacTec, Dynatest

Electrical Subcontractor: Brooks-Berry-Haynie Center and Edge

Lighting: Hi-Lite Markings

Dowels, Dowel Baskets and Tie Bars: Civil Works

Material Transport: American Highway Technology

In Retrospect

From the airport’s perspective, having a designer on site no matter what the hour or day was another strategic move. “It helped speed things along,” Watkins explains. “We found some 36-inch slabs we didn’t initially know were there. They were in good shape, so we were able to change the design on the spot and leave them in place. We could have lost a lot of time on it; instead we just kept moving. Overall, the project ran very smooth.”

Managing media relations is one area the airport plans to refine for future runway projects. “We got a lot of bad press because of delays to air traffic during construction,” Watkins recalls.

Since the 2006 runway project, ATL has added a full-time public relations position devoted exclusively to its numerous capital improvement projects. “We’re really going to be proactive about our relationships with the local media,” notes Albert Snedeker, CIP public relations manager.

With taxiways being replaced every year, Snedeker has ample opportunities to hone his PR strategy before the airport’s next major runway replacement in 2016.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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