Telluride Regional Invests in Extensive Runway & Airfield Improvements

Jodi Richards
Published in: 











Located 9,070 feet above sea level at the top of the Deep Creek Mesa, Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) in Colorado is the highest commercial airport in United States. Thanks to a $50 million, multi-phase runway and airfield improvement project, operations there are safer than ever as the airport prepares for measured growth.

Project: Airfield & Runway Improvements
Location: Telluride (CO) Regional Airport
Cost: $50 million
Funding: 95% FAA; 5% airport
Engineering Consultant: Kimley-Horn
Planning Consultant: Coffmann Associates
Contractor (Phase II and III): R.E. Monks
EMAS Designer/Provider: ESCO
Relocation of AWOS: Vaisala
Phase IA Construction Contractor: Jensen Drilling
Phase IB Construction Contractor: Delhur Industries
Phase IB Sub-consultant: Golder - Geotechnical
Phase IB Sub-consultant: San Juan Surveying
Phase II Design Sub-consultants: Golder; Terracon Engineering Consultants; San Juan Surveying; Roy D. Mcqueen & Associates Pavement Engineering
Phase III Design Sub-consultants: Terracon Engineering Consultants; San Juan Surveying

Planning for the multi-year project dates back to February 2000, when TEX's runway was "showing its life," and the airport approached the FAA for a $6 million grant to rehabilitate it, explains Airport Manager Richard Nuttall. While the FAA agreed that the runway was in need of repairs, the agency also asked TEX to bring it up to new standards, which required changing the runway's grade and widening its safety areas.

That's when TEX embarked on a study to determine how to meet the FAA's request and at the same time lengthen the runway to improve safety and accommodate larger aircraft. The study was completed in 2004 and resulted in the airport's multi-phase, $50 million project.

"It took a lot of different design reviews on our part to see what would work and what wouldn't," Nuttall recalls, noting that the airport worked with the FAA on 10 or 12 different iterations. "At one time, we looked at skewing the runway to one side or the other to see if we could get more length."

Phase I began in 2008, with crews increasing the size of an embankment on the north side of the runway so the safety area could be widened. Consulting firm Kimley-Horn was contracted to assist TEX with its runway and airfield upgrades, which eventually met updated FAA criteria.

During Phase II, in 2009, the airport closed for seven months while crews reconstructed the entire runway. After the old 6,870-foot runway was removed, the grades were adjusted to meet new FAA standards: The west end was lowered 32 feet, the center was raised 16 feet and the east end was lowered 14 feet. Crews also performed more safety area work for the new 7,111-foot runway.

The runway closure was a financial challenge for TEX, Nuttall notes: "We are a self-sustaining airport. So all of our grant match and all of that money we needed while we were closed was from money that we had saved from operating the airport." While FAA grants paid for 95% of the project, TEX needed to cover the remainder - despite the loss of income from being closed during Phase II.

Completely closing the airport during that time, however, was the only option, because the entire runway had to be torn out. "We couldn't do it in phases," Nuttall explains. "We had to do it all at once."

While 3 million cubic yards of dirt were moved around the airport during the project, none was taken off property. Additionally, many of the materials used to make the sub-base for the new runway were created onsite, from the property's native resources. "That was a unique part of the project," Nuttall notes. "We were able to make some of the materials that we needed for the project and not take any material off the airport, which saved a lot of money in trucking costs."

In 2010, crews widened the airfield's safety areas from 150 feet to 250 feet, installed an Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS) and finished ancillary aspects of the projects. Work on the EMAS was scheduled at night to prevent disrupting operations.

A Mountain of Challenges

The unique logistics of construction in Telluride added an unwelcome element to the bid process. "There are not a lot of contractors that come out and bid working out in the mountains at 10,000-foot altitude," explains Mike Olander, P.E., senior project manager with Kimley-Horn. "It's a hard location to get to, and it's just not the easiest place for a contractor to work."

R.E. Monks, based in Fountain Hills, AZ, won the contract for both the second and third phases of the project.

The timing of Phase III was another challenge. After receiving notification of FAA funding in December 2010, TEX had to get that $11 million portion of the project designed and bid in three months. "We had to get it ready to go so they could start construction as soon as the winter broke - basically around May first - and be done by the end of October, before snow started to fly," Olander explains.

The short construction season also means a short growth season. "We had a little trouble getting grass and vegetation to grow in certain areas because of the short season and the weather, so we had to make some adjustments," he adds.

With the majority of the main projects complete, Kimley-Horn is currently focusing on ancillary projects such as apron and deicing pad work, remedial erosion control measures and other supplemental projects, reports Olander.

The multi-phase project is "quite a process," with many different planning stages and ideas to make the best and safest use of the airfield, Nuttall notes.

"There was quite an extensive public process," he adds. "There were many folks who didn't want us to do anything. So that was quite a challenge to get through the public process at that time."

Initial plans to use retaining walls at both ends of the runway to allow for more length was a hotly contested idea. "I had requested from the FAA that we use EMAS on either end of the runway so we wouldn't have to shorten [it]," recalls Nuttall. "And, at the time, the FAA refused to allow us to use EMAS."

When the FAA later allowed the use of EMAS, the airport benefited from an additional 100 feet of length of the runway by using it instead of retaining walls.

Overall, the project originally received a lot of resistance from the community, Nuttall relates: "We are a resort town, so there are a lot of emotions with the airport over the years."

Built in 1985, TEX is a relatively new airport compared to many facilities.

Although a series of runway improvements upgraded TEX's runway from a Category B3 to a C3, the runway's length and the airport's elevation still limit TEX from receiving airliner jet service. Currently, a Global Express is the largest private jet that uses the airport.

For the last 21/2 years, however, the airport has been working with the FAA to secure a new Category C approach. Nuttall says the airport will hire Jeppesen to help design the approach and then submit it to the FAA for approval. "We have this new runway; we need a new instrument approach to match the category," he reasons. "If we are successful at that, then we hope to bring the Q400 airline into the airport, which would then really enhance our commercial service."

Moving Forward

Even though TEX's master plan update was completed in 2004, Nuttall says it isn't "old" because it was designed based on need rather than time. "So the master plan is still very valid in terms of what we want to get done," he states.

With the recession and reduction of airline service, TEX's operations have "kind of slid" the last few years, he adds. In 2012, the airport saw about 16,800 total operations. Visitors can reach TEX through Denver International via United Airlines, Great Lakes Aviation and Frontier Airlines.

The next phase of the master plan - replacing the terminal building - is tied to the airport attracting more commercial airline service. The current facility combines both general aviation and airline service in one building. Ideally, airport officials would like to divide the two into separate facilities to better meet the needs of both. A ramp expansion is also in the plans.

Plans for future hangar development on the south side of the runway will be facilitated by a tunnel that was added under the runway during its reconstruction. "That way motor vehicle traffic can access the south side very easily," Nuttall explains. "We put in all of the conduit and everything under the runway for the future expansion, so it's just a matter of need. As the need comes along and we can get the funding together, then we'll continue implementing our master plan."


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