Round-the-Clock Work Helps Cheyenne Regional Finish Paving Project On Time

Round-the-Clock Work Helps Cheyenne Regional Finish Paving Project On Time
Jenn Daack Woolson
Published in: 

It snowed on April 4, 2023, in Cheyenne, WY. That’s the day Cheyenne Regional Airport (CYS) closed its main runway to commercial traffic for the final paving phase of a multi-year reconstruction project. From that day until Sept. 9, when the first flight full of SkyWest Airlines passengers took off from the new pavement, crews endured the second-wettest year in Cheyenne history. Despite battling historic amounts of rainfall during the 159 closure days, CYS completed the project on time and on budget.

The 50-year-old runway was falling apart and in serious need of a full-depth reconstruction, explains Tripp Fox, civil aviation engineer with Jacobs Engineering, lead engineer for the project. About 6,200 feet of the 9,270-foot runway was replaced during the $42 million reconstruction, which was paid for by the FAA and partners including the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Wyoming Air National Guard.

After enduring contractor challenges during the project’s earlier phases, CYS Aviation Director Tim Bradshaw frankly didn’t have high hopes that things would go well. “One of the contractors really did not live up to expectations,” he explains. “They were way over budget and way over on time. That contractor wasn’t able to perform adequately on the job, and we’re still trying to clean up some of those issues.”


Project: Runway Reconstruction

Main Components: New concrete pavement;
new edge lights

Location: Cheyenne (WY) Regional Airport

Airport Owner/Operator: Cheyenne Regional Airport Board

Commercial Carrier: SkyWest Airlines

Runway: 9-27

Length: 9,270 ft.

Pavement Replaced: About 6,200 ft.
(103,300 sq. yds.)

Approx. Cost:  $42 million

Funding: FAA; WY Dept. of Transportation; WY
Air National Guard; airport

Phase 1 Construction Closures: 32 days in 2020; 220 days in 2021; 197 days in 2022

Phase 2 Construction Closure: 159 days
in 2023

Prime Design Consultant: Jacobs Engineering

Prime Contractor for Phase 3: IHC Scott

Key Benefits: Improved safety/operating efficiency

Main Challenges: Heavy rain; long lead times for electrical & drainage components; regional cement shortages

Initially, Bradshaw, tried to work with the FAA and SkyWest, the United Airlines carrier that serves CYS, to use the airport’s slightly shorter secondary runway, which remained open to general aviation and military traffic over the summer. “We thought maybe we could remove some of the displaced thresholds or see what else we could do,” Bradshaw recalls. “But in the end, due to the area’s high altitude and the operational limitations of their CRJ 200 aircraft, SkyWest was unable to operate on the second runway.”

Completing the final $24 million phase of the project on time was crucial because the associated closure meant cancelling two daily SkyWest flights—more than 300 in all. And tickets for the planned reopening day—Sept. 10—already had been sold.

Adding to the pervasive rain and issues with the initial contractor were ongoing concerns about the availability of cement. To comply with new environmental regulations, manufacturers have been producing a more eco-friendly cement that is being used for all types of construction and road projects in Wyoming. Given the state’s limited construction season, everyone in the region was competing for the cement. “The supply is basically rationed out for the year, so that was one of the concerns we were tracking the whole summer,” says Fox. “But we were fortunate enough not to be impacted by it.”

Paving Partner That’s All In

With the FAA’s required bidding approach, CYS faced another potential challenge: Getting stuck with another underperforming contractor.

But that wasn’t at all the case. “We were very fortunate on the project’s last phase to get the lowest bid from a very well-established contractor, IHC Scott,” Bradshaw says. “And they have performed unbelievably.”

The Colorado-based civil contracting company earned effusive praise from all levels of the project team.

“Despite the rain, this contractor worked seven days a week—even holidays,” Bradshaw reports. “They worked long hours every day and were right on time.”

“I’ve never seen as dedicated a group of people. It’s actually just amazing to watch them work,” adds Cliff Cox, the airport’s director of Operations and Maintenance. “You can tell companies where the employees feel like they’re taken care of—they act a lot different on the project. For them to have completed the work on time with the weather and other challenges we’ve had—it’s literally a miracle.”

That kind of work ethic and commitment was a pleasant contrast after the previous contractor took off weather day after weather day and ended up months behind schedule.

Cox highlights Project Manager Brooke Miller as a particular star among IHC Scott’s 30-person crew. “I can’t say enough about her,” he says. “She has more construction knowledge than most 40-year-old men, and she can run every piece of equipment out here.”

Miller is quick to return the praise. “Cliff’s the kind of guy that if he sees you out there making a solid effort, he’s going to give you that in return,” she says. “It’s been a very special kind of job in my eyes, because I’ve never really seen where you have three different parties, all in it to win it, working with each other, pushing each other to be better and do better and get better.”

Scheduled to Succeed

Miller and Cameron Thompson, another IHC Scott project manager, are pleased about what they accomplished. “One thing this crew takes very seriously and prides themselves highly on is either beating or, at a minimum, meeting the schedule,” Miller says. “We walked in knowing that working seven days a week, if required, would not be a problem for us. We ran 24 hours a day right out of the gate to help create a safety blanket.”

It took six days of running double shifts 24/7 to remove a 150-foot-wide, 3,657-foot-long segment of the runway—a task projected to take two to three weeks. “That’s really what I think started the fire and got that ball rolling,” she says.

But as crews started digging in, they encountered a new hurdle: clumpy soil that proved frustrating to work with—especially in the unrelenting rain. Miller describes it as a heavy clay that refused to let go of any moisture. “If we had tried to wait to let it dry out, we’d still probably be waiting,” she jokes.

Thompson describes the soil as simply terrible.

“It really created a lot of extra work,” he recalls. “Every time we fixed it, it would get rained on and ruined, and we’d have to start all over. We had some areas that took us six times and probably a matter of a week to get a 300-foot area passed.”

After the dirt was dealt with, the paving part of the job was pretty straightforward, Thompson adds. The company is at an advantage because it has equipment to pave double widths—37.5-foot swaths compared to other contractors who are paving at 18.75 feet wide.

Experience and Flexibility Make It Work

Bradshaw says that CYS was lucky to get a contractor with so much airport paving experience when using the FAA’s low-bid process. “We have very limited contractors who can perform a job of this scope and magnitude in our region,” he explains. “FAA design standards require a lot more than just normal types of projects.”

Cox agrees that working with contractors that haven’t previously done airport work was less than ideal. “They don’t understand that when you’re dealing with the FAA, when a spec says something, it means what it says,” he laments. “If it says you have to pave while wearing a pink tutu, that’s what you do! If you bid the project, you have to follow the directions no matter how stupid they may seem to you.”

Miller says that although IHC Scott’s crew is experienced, she’s always looking for ways to improve. “I’m pretty young, so I’m still learning every day. Sometimes you make decisions that make you think, ‘Well, that could have gone a different way. Maybe we’ll try not to do it that way next time.’”

It also was key to roll with the proverbial punches. “From the engineering side, the biggest lesson learned was that we needed to be flexible with all the changes that are going on in the world,” says Fox. “Within the past few years, especially starting with COVID, everything changed drastically. And there’s nothing really anyone can do about it, but just figure out how to find quick solutions and keep the project moving forward.”

Speaking from the airport’s perspective, Cox credits IHC Scott for being an incredibly responsive project partner that brought solutions to the table, not just problems. That said, he believes there needs to be an airport person engaged full time in such projects. “You can’t just hand it off to an engineer or anybody else to look at the project the same way you would,” he says. “I guarantee I’ve saved more than six figures just by being in the right place to say, ‘That’s not going to work. If we do it this way instead, we won’t have to redo it and we’ll save the airport and the federal government a lot of money.’”

Case in point: The recently completed runway project had just four change orders and one of them—a design change—saved $65,000. Other change orders were due to unforeseen circumstances including a buried fiber-optic line that required crews to re-grade that area, and the discovery of a buried electrical line. In all, there was only $32,000 in change orders for the project’s final phase.

Getting Ready to Reopen

In the weeks leading up to the September reopening, IHC Scott crews worked with Fox and Cox to finish last-minute details and prepare for the final inspection with the FAA and Wyoming Transportation Department. At the same time, Bradshaw and his communications team reassured the community—especially passengers who had already purchased tickets—that flight operations really would resume as scheduled.

True to form, a SkyWest plane from Denver International Airport was able to land on CYS’ newly reconstructed runway at 9:34 p.m. on Sept. 9, and took off the next morning with a load of passengers.

It was a moment the whole team was eager to see. “There’s no one on this job who didn’t contribute to the success,” Miller emphasizes. “It was a very, very amazing sight to see that plane land Saturday night.”

Bradshaw and other CYS leaders are glad to have the project behind them. The new runway pavement is not expected to need major work for more than 20 years.


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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