Island Location Complicates Runway Project at Martha’s Vineyard Airport

Island Location Complicates Runway Project at Martha’s Vineyard Airport
Thomas J. Smith
Published in: 

Runway reconstruction is often a nail-biting experience for small airports with limited options for takeoffs and landings. When the airport is also on an island, every worker and load of materials must be carefully choreographed to finish the project on time.

In spring, Martha’s Vineyard Airport (MVY) completed a $10.5 million reconstruction of its main runway two days early. Racing against time, crews laid asphalt daily—sometimes seven days a week—from late March until May 13. JetBlue Airways resumed its seasonal flights on May 17.

Located on a picturesque island about seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, MVY handles a mix of seasonal commercial traffic provided by JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, all flying Embraer 175s and 190s. The airfield also accommodates Cape Air’s year-round schedule with Cessna 402s and a variety of private jets.


Project: Runway Reconstruction

Location: Martha’s Vineyard (MA) Airport 

Runway Length: 5,504 ft.

Cost: $10.5 million

Funding: FAA, 90%; state, 5%; county, 5%

Airport Owner: Dukes County

Operator: Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission

Project Engineer: McFarland Johnson

Environmental Engineer: Tetra Tech

General Contractor: Lawrence-Lynch Corp.

Barge Service: Tisbury Towing

Stone Supplier: Cape Cod Aggregates

Liquid Asphalt Vendor: All States Materials

Liquid Asphalt Supplier: C L Noonan Transportation

Hot Mix Asphalt Supplier:
White Brother’s Lynch LLC

Local Sand Supplier: Goodale Construction Co.

Hot Mix Asphalt Aggregate Supplier: P J Keating

Electrical Sub Contractor: KOBO Utility Construction Corp. 

Noteworthy Details: Runway materials had to be shipped in via barges & freighters; paving crews working 7-day shifts were housed on the island; negative feedback about standard hot mix for the region prompted airport to alter asphalt formula mid-project

Prior to the recent project, MVY’s 5,504-foot main runway was last reconstructed in 1991. The airport also has a 3,328-foot secondary runway, but it cannot support commercial carriers or large private jets. So for some operators, MVY is essentially a single-runway airport. 

“Our fleet dynamic has changed over time from the ATR 42s of the ’90s to more mainstream regional jets,” explains Deputy Airport Director Geoffrey Freeman. “We have had a lot of wear and tear on the runway,” 

For instance, when former President Obama vacationed on the island, a bevy of military support aircraft came, too. 

In its 2017 pavement evaluation, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation deemed the main runway as mostly fair, but with poor conditions along the edges. At that point, airport officials began planning for its replacement.

“We thought about all the angles on this project and how to get it done—not just from the airport’s standpoint, but also how we could help out our contractor,” says Freeman. 

Officials considered dividing the reconstruction in two, with part of the project ending in fall 2018 and the remainder wrapping up in spring 2019. Instead, they decided to close the entire runway in early 2019 and complete the reconstruction all at once to create a smooth, uninterrupted finished surface. 

During the design process, project engineer McFarland Johnson worked with the airport to understand and mitigate potential disruptions to flight operations. “We were able to limit the duration of impacts by developing multiple construction phases and using around-the-clock construction,” says Rich Lasdin, P.E., the company’s project manager. 

In general, the plan was to complete all preliminary work by the time the contractor’s asphalt plant could re-open in March. Achieving that required an extensive amount of pre-construction staging; and working on an island added considerable challenges. 

“Construction phasing, accurate quantities and cost estimating is absolutely critical for project success in an island environment,” says Lasdin. “Diligence during the design process and continuous monitoring during construction resulted in a project that was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.” 

Peter Kelly, the project manager for general contractor Lawrence-Lynch, notes that almost all materials for the project had to be shipped in—even the stone, as Martha’s Vineyard is an island of sand and does not have a quarry.

Material Delivery

The project required about 33,880 tons of crushed aggregate for a new 7-inch base. It took 37 barge trips to deliver the sub-base material from docks in New Bedford, MA, to the island’s small port, Vineyard Haven. But first, the stone had to be trucked from the supplier’s facility, one hour north of New Bedford.

The barge operator’s landside facilities in Vineyard Haven did not have a solid surface to unload the material onto during winter, so Lawrence-Lynch installed an asphalt pad to facilitate deliveries.

Shipping began on Jan. 7 and ended on March 21, with a new barge load of materials arriving almost daily. The barge operator shipped and unloaded the stone and aggregate materials day and night, but the contractor could not deliver the stones to the airport until the next day because local laws will not allow large trucks on the island’s narrow roads after dark.

Initially, the aggregate was stockpiled at the airport; but there was not enough space to store all the sub-base material. As the project progressed, crews trucked stone directly from the barge to the runway.

Asphalt production was also an issue. Lawrence-Lynch already had a small asphalt plant just 2 miles from the airport, operated by White Brother’s Lynch LLC, but its capacity is limited to 60 tons per hour. And to keep peace with the neighbors, it can only operate during daylight hours. In addition, the facility didn’t have enough room to store all the raw aggregate materials, and it lacked sufficient tank capacity to hold all of the liquid asphalt needed to manufacture the 22,700 tons hot mix required for the airport project.

When winter turned to spring, space on the barges became constrained by other customers shipping goods onto the island. So Lawrence-Lynch also used the Steamship Authority ferry and freighters to deliver its raw materials. In the end, it also shipped approximately 17,525 tons of aggregate raw materials from another stone supplier and 1,240 tons of liquid asphalt across Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound. The contractor also used 5,000 tons of native sand from an island supplier to create a 5-inch layer of asphalt made up of a binder and top course for the runway.  

Often, a new tanker of liquid asphalt arrived every other day from Rhode Island via a local freighter. Typically, the plant uses one 30-ton tanker of liquid asphalt per month, notes Kelly. 

As a contingency, the contractor and liquid asphalt supplier kept an empty self-pumping tanker on-site as a spare. They also located on-island trucking sources and imported off-island truckers during critical construction phases. The contractor ran many operations simultaneously and maintained at least one backup of all the major equipment utilized, to ensure no down time. To gear up the asphalt plant for production, crews spent several weeks maintaining and rebuilding components to make sure everything was in good working order. “We could not afford to loose time because of an equipment breakdown,” Kelly emphasizes. 

Although Lawrence-Lynch had completed other pavement projects at MVY, this was by far the most extensive. 

All Systems Go

Construction began on Jan. 14 with crews removing 9 inches of asphalt and the runway’s stone sub-base. Grinding operations proceeded without delays, thanks to a mild winter with little snow or extreme temperatures, reports Freeman. The old material was stockpiled at the airport, and Lawrence-Lynch is gradually removing and re-using it in new pavement elsewhere on the island.

By the time air temperatures rose in late March and the asphalt plant came online, crews had installed and graded the runway base. With the May 15 deadline looming, the project team decided to “go seven days a week.” 

Despite the urgency, crews only worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We had to be conscientious of the traffic and smell, so we were not impacting the neighbors too much,” Freeman explains. As the runway neared completion and seasonal residents returned to their homes in spring, crews stopped working on Sundays.  

Early in the project, Lawrence-Lynch ferried work crews between the island and mainland every day on its own small boat or the Steamship Authority ferry. During paving operations, the contractor rotated its crews and housed workers in a hotel on the island. Personnel worked seven days at MVY, and then returned to Cape Cod for seven days of more routine paving and downtime. 


A major change order was processed mid-job, when the airport requested a new formula for the top layer of asphalt. After the contract had been awarded and Lawrence-Lynch proved to the FAA it could make the correct hot mix using the agency’s regional formula, MVY received troublesome feedback from airports in nearby Hyannis and Nantucket. Their relatively new runways, paved with the FAA’s standard formula, were developing ruts and minor failures, explains Freeman. 

Working with engineers from McFarland Johnson and Lawrence-Lynch, the MVY project team proposed changes to the FAA formula to strengthen the finished pavement. It also added another inch of asphalt to the design spec for the final layer, notes Kevin McMahon, McFarland Johnson’s resident engineer for the project.

Typically, it takes the FAA about six months to review project changes; but the formula and design changes were approved in just two months, reports McMahon.  

Thanks to the agency’s speed, changing the liquid asphalt properties and stone ratios did not delay the start of paving. “It was a curveball,” Kelly recalls, noting that the contractor was able to change its order for materials just before the supplier began shipping.  

“The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission recognizes the need for infrastructure upgrades to maintain and operate the airport’s facilities and has planned accordingly,” says Airport Director Cindi Martin, who arrived at MVY after the runway reconstruction was completed. “This project was critical to achieving the goal set forth by the commission to provide our community and the flying public with a safe, secure and compliant airport facility.”

In the next three to four years, MVY will begin planning for the reconstruction of its secondary runway. Although there has been some discussion about extending it, Freeman doesn’t foresee that happening.  

In 20 years, engineers will assess the remaining life of the main runway, and a new overlay may be applied to extend its life another five years. 

The Foam Problem

Like many other U.S. airports, Martha’s Vineyard Airport (MVY) off Cape Cod, MA, is dealing with a relatively new environmental issue: potential soil and groundwater contamination from chemicals in firefighting foam. 

The possible presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in soil underneath the main runway emerged as a potential snag during MVY’s recent $10.5 million reconstruction project. Compounding the issue, traces of PFAS have been detected in the drinking wells of neighbors.

Geoffrey Freeman, the deputy airport director, explains that PFAS are not completely regulated by Massachusetts, but the commonwealth’s environmental regulators consider them “an emerging hazard.”

Based on airport records—and Freeman’s personal experience—crews located an area of the runway where PFAS-laced foam was discharged in the 1990s. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection asked that the soil underneath that section of the runway be removed, set aside and tested. 

Samples from the 50 tons of material crews removed came back clear, and no further treatment was required, Freeman reports. 

But earlier last year, MVY decided to investigate further before regulations were enacted. “We found some contamination of an area just south of the airport where it reached the groundwater of a neighborhood,” says Freeman. 

The airport consequently worked with regulators and environmental engineers from Tetra Tech to test about 100 home wells and has subsequently installed filters on 36 wells. After the filters were installed, no detectable levels of PFAS have been found. 

Freeman notes that Massachusetts regulators have yet to issue state guidelines regarding safe PFAS levels, and the EPA has not set national standards.



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