Runway Rehab Paves the Way for Awards at Tri-State Airport

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

The $9 million rehabilitation of the sole runway at Huntington Tri-State Airport (HTS) in West Virginia was completed without any big surprises — just the way Airport Director Jerry Brienza likes it. The airport’s airlines and cargo operator agreed to a single weekend shutdown; various contractors and crews finished multiple stages on time; and even the weather cooperated.

In turn, the nearly half-year rehab was named 2013 Commercial Airport Project of the Year by the Southeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE). In addition, prime contractor West Virginia Paving received a 2012 Quality in Construction Award from the National Asphalt Pavement Association.


Project: Runway Reconstruction
Location: Huntington (WV) Tri-State Airport
Owner: Tri-State Airport Authority
Runway: Runway 12-30
Size: 7,016 x 150 ft.
Cost: $9 million
Project Engineer: Kimley-Horn & Associates
Prime Contractor: West Virginia Paving
Electricians: Barnes & Powell
Excavation, Sub-grade & Base Course Preparation for Shoulders: Mountaineer Contractors
Crack Repair: Affordable Asphalt Maintenance
Asphalt Milling: Boca Construction
Site Security: Cherokee Enterprises Corp.
Pavement Marking: Mid Atlantic Maintenance
Runway Grooving: Cardinal Grooving
Asphalt Coring for Runway Lights: Diamond Concrete Cutting
Lighting (in new paved shoulders): ADB Airfield Solutions
Transformers & Connector Kits: Integro
Fiberglass Reinforcing Mesh: Tensar Int’l
Security Fence & Gates: All Quality Fencing
Seeding & Mulching: Instant Growth Hydroseeding; Massie Reclamation
Subcontractors: Mountaineer Contracting; Boca Construction; Mid-Atlantic Maintenance; Affordable Asphalt Maintenance; Barnes & Powell; Sunbelt Rentals; Walker Express; The Cat Rental Store;
Foster Supply
Key Improvements: Mitigation of existing pavement cracks; updated lighting; paved shoulders
Reconstruction Timeline: mid-April to Oct. 2012
Highlights: Project phasing limited closures affecting aircraft operations to 54 hours; flight operations continued on milled runway during part of project; pavement reinforcement system was used to extend life of severe crack repair
Awards: AAAE Southeast Chapter 2013 Commercial Airport Project of the Year; Nat’l Asphalt Pavement Assoc. 2012 Quality in Construction Award

Project engineer Kimley-Horn developed the plan to pave the 7,016-foot-long runway in one weekend, and complete other construction during 120 individual nighttime closures.

The severe cracking that led to the runway rehabilitation was generating loose material that potentially could have damaged aircraft engines, explains Bob Jones, the firm’s project manager. And the “Band-Aid fixes” the airport had been using for about five years could no longer take care of the problem, adds Brienza. Even with multiple overlays on the concrete, reflective cracks were still coming through the previous work about every 30 to 40 feet. The rehab consequently included the installation of a pavement reinforcement system to mitigate future damage from existing cracks.

With one runway and a mix of commercial, cargo, military and general aviation customers to serve, an extended runway closure was not an option; nor was milling down through the full depth of the cracking.

For Brienza, there were two basic approaches to consider: close down the runway for a short time to create an uninterrupted work period, or pave the runway in short sections during a longer series of six-hour nighttime closures.

According to Jones, most single-runway airports opt for the latter strategy. “The problem with that is that small sections of paving are completed each night; and the next night, tapers need to be removed, so there’s a lot of waste and excess,” he explains. The approach also produces multiple cold joints, which generally don’t perform as well as a continuously placed material.

Based on concerns about smoothness, quality and cost, HTS opted for a single weekend shutdown rather than a longer series of shorter nightly work windows. Construction ran from April to October 2012.

Weekend Shutdown

Closing the runway for a little more than two days in June was not without its challenges — especially with commercial airlines, cargo carriers and military and general aviation customers to accommodate. In 2012, HTS accommodated more than 211,000 passengers.

“The biggest challenge was the timing, making sure we had everything in place,” Brienza recalls.
Prior to the weekend shutdown, prime contractor West Virginia Paving repaired cracks and micro-milled the runway surface, taking off just a half-inch of the existing asphalt. The prep work took place during a series of six-hour closures starting in May. Each night, crews went to work shortly after the last FedEx plane landed.

“We couldn’t get on the runway until 11:30 p.m., and we had to be off of it by 4:45 a.m.,” recalls West Virginia Paving Project Superintendent Joe Donohue. “We worked alongside our subcontractors to make sure they had everything they needed to complete their work, including electrical and lights, dirt work and stone on the shoulders, micro-milling, crack repairs, grooving and painting. The subcontractors on this job were outstanding.”

Crews not only had to be off the runway by 4:45 a.m., they also had to make it look like they were never there by cleaning and vacuuming the site. If the pavement they milled off included paint, they had to repaint markings before the runway opened in the morning.

Brienza recalls putting a lot of trust in his personnel to inspect the runway before it opened. “They did an absolute fantastic job helping the contractors get it ready for the airlines and cargo carriers in the morning,” he relates. Brienza himself often went onto the airfield late at night or early in the morning to double-check conditions.

“To say I wasn’t nervous at all would be a lie,” he muses. Each morning, the first FedEx flights scheduled to land were already in the air before HTS officials definitively knew whether the runway would be open. Fortunately, it was ready to open on time, after each nightly closure.

The weekend shutdown was scheduled six months in advance — with a provisional rain date. In total, just three flights were canceled in advance to facilitate the work.

West Virginia Paving was given 54 hours to complete the paving work and finished in 48. The company had three paving teams working side by side to place about 22,300 tons of P-401 asphalt concrete, explains Brienza. About 70 equipment operators, laborers, construction supervisors, quality control/assurance personnel, electricians, painters and engineers were on site. “Literally, it was an army of people out here,” he recalls.

Two mix plants produced more than 900 truckloads of asphalt concrete, and backup paving equipment was ready to spring into action if needed.

Like Brienza, Jones was struck by the efficiency of the process. “They had all of their equipment and crews on the job for that one weekend continuously paving,” he explains. “One paver was only about 100 feet in front of the next. Only two joints in the entire runway were cold joints; that never happens.”
When West Virginia Paving finished the work early, “we were very impressed,” notes Brienza.

With only two cold longitudinal joints and no transverse joints, Donohue predicts that the rehab will last 15 to 20 years.


One of Brienza’s biggest concerns about the rehab was pushback from the airlines about the micro-milling portion of the project. In addition to preparing the runway for paving, micro-milling removes the grooves that helps facilitate braking and directional control for aircraft. Brienza was consequently worried that the airlines would refuse to land on a runway without grooves. 

With help from the project engineer and contractor, however, airport officials explained the strategy and obtained buy-in from HTS’ three airlines and its cargo carrier. After also securing FAA approval, the project proceeded; and for two weeks in May, planes landed on a non-grooved surface.

According to Jones, micro-milling saved 10 to 12 hours of closure time.

Pavement Reinforcement

Prior to the micro-milling, nearly 26,000 linear feet of severe transverse and longitudinal cracking needed to be fixed. Crews repaired the damage by milling cracks down 4 inches and placing a 1.5-inch lift of asphalt concrete followed by fiberglass pavement reinforcement fabric to prevent reflective cracking. On top of that, they installed a 2.5-inch layer of asphalt concrete to match the existing pavement surface.

The reinforcement system — GlasGrid® from Tensar International — is a geogrid matrix of fiberglass strands coated with an elastomeric polymer that is designed to spread out the stress and strain generated by cracks below. Bill Tiltman, area sales manager for Tensar, notes that GlasGrid’s pressure-activated adhesive coating on the underside makes it one of the fastest interlayer systems to install.

According to Tiltman, the system is particularly effective on runways, taxiways and aprons where transverse thermal cracking or Portland Cement Concrete joint cracking is prevalent on the asphalt overlay surface. While HTS was a spot repair project – the product was only installed over joint cracks — it can also be used on the full width of runways.

According to Tiltman, the GlasGrid System can save up to 30% on the total cost of airport pavement rehabilitations. At HTS, Jones expects the product to prevent cracks from reflecting through the new surface for 10, maybe 15, years.

Final Touches

With the paving finished during the weekend closure, night closures continued to complete the rest of the project. A temporary lighting system was installed around the runway so the existing lighting system could be removed while crews paved the previously dirt runway shoulders. With 20 feet added to each side, the runway is now 150 feet wide.

Before the shoulders were paved, crews installed edge light conduit and light bases. The new fixtures will reduce maintenance, as crews no longer have to mow and cut weeds around the lights.
The final step, pavement marking, was completed in late October.

Finishing the runway rehab ahead of schedule and slightly under budget left Jones proud. And he’s also confident that the runway will serve the airport for a long time with minimal maintenance and repairs.

“Working with Tri-State Airport on this project was about as good as it gets,” Donohue reflects. “We listened to their concerns and ideas; they listened to ours; and we worked together to make this project the best it could possibly be.

“Just because something is not your idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea,” he adds.

With the right strategy and execution, it might even be award-winning.


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