At Durango airport, a ballet of heavy machinery repaves an aging runway

All fixed-wing flights have been halted as crews work 24/7 to resurface a 1.75-mile airstrip

The asphalt is heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit before being placed in front of an asphalt transfer machine that remixes the asphalt and transfers it to the paver Thursday at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. The airport is closed for 10 days, Sept. 7-16, as part of a $12.7 million runway resurfacing project. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango-La Plata County Airport typically sees a steady stream of planes coming and going during daytime operations, including private planes and commercial jets. But lately all the activity has stayed on the ground, where a small army of road crews are working around the clock to repave the 1.75-mile track.

The $12.7 million asphalt project caused the airport to be closed for 10 days, from September 7 to 16.

On Thursday, an asphalt milling machine moved slowly along the track, which is 150 feet wide, removing old asphalt as about 40 trucks hauled it away.

The DRO suspended all flights during construction, including cargo, aerial firefighting, emergency medical and military flights.

Aviation Director Tony Vicari said airport runway maintenance usually takes place once every 10 years.

A large “X” with lights sits at the end of a runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport to indicate that the runway is closed. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“This track has not been significantly renovated in over 15 years,” he said Thursday. “The asphalt sections on the tracks are heavily designed to be able to support a lot of weight on the ground.”

He said the only risk of the project being delayed would be if weather conditions forced a work stoppage or if equipment malfunctioned. DRO and Four Corners Materials have also built redundancy into the project, including an on-site asphalt plant so that potential roadblocks that arise don’t jeopardize the schedule.

“They ultimately chose the on-site batch plant to maximize lead time because it reduces back and forth between the batch plant and the job site,” Vicari said.

Tony Vicari, director of aviation, crosses the runway Thursday at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. The airport is undergoing a $12.7 million resurfacing project. As a result, it is closed for 10 days, from September 7 to 16. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Crews worked 24/7 to meet the September 16 deadline.

The project scrapes the existing 3 inches of asphalt from the track to make way for the new layer. Mounds of old asphalt can be seen sitting around the airport. However, Vicari said the removed asphalt will be reused for airport access roads or taken away by the contractor.

Vicari said about 92% of the $12.7 million project is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The FAA operates a system of capital improvement grants for airports nationwide to invest in critical airport infrastructure that supports the entire national airspace system,” he said. “Runways are basically the top priority in terms of funding across the country.”

About $250,000 of the funding came from the Aeronautics Division of the Colorado Department of Transportation and $700,000 came from airport cash funding.

The Durango-La Plata County Airport hot mix asphalt plant operates around the clock as part of the $12.7 million runway resurfacing maintenance project at the airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The airport is also taking the opportunity to redo the runway lighting, switching from incandescent bulbs to LEDs. Vicari said the change was made to be more energy efficient. Once paving is complete, workers will spend approximately 20 nights in October grooving the track for traction. It will take place at the end of October because the new asphalt needs about 30 days to harden.

The grooving process is slow because it takes time to cut the asphalt with the necessary equipment.

While closed, the airport is carrying out other renovations that would not have been possible when it was open, including repaving the worn commercial apron where planes park at the terminal.

“It’s a difficult surface to work on a regular basis because we have planes coming and going all day,” Vicari said. “Thus, the idea of ​​rehabilitating active asphalt during periods of exploitation is difficult, if not impossible.”

The airport is also repurposing its fiber optic service, which is part of a long-term plan for the terminal. This will involve rebuilding some of the existing duct runs for the system. Vicari said the main goal was to move the fiber optic cable entry point.

An asphalt cutter removes the top 3 inches of asphalt on the runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

An asphalt cutter removes the top 3 inches of asphalt on the runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The closure also gives the airport a chance to make critical repairs to one of its main water pumps.

“We’re actually going to shut down the water system for a few hours while we change critical components of the distribution pumps, sort of routine in a normal environment,” Vicari said.

The airport will also use the closure to coordinate active shooter training with staff members and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s something we can, of course, do at any time in theory, but it’s a good time when we can take some of our employees out and give them some dedicated time,” he said.

Vicari relied in part on community sensitization to decide when the project should be completed. He wanted to make sure the airport closure didn’t disrupt any major events, such as the return of students to Fort Lewis College. He also wanted to make sure the airport was not closed during peak summer travel and fire seasons.

“We heard very little frustration with the dates we chose,” he said. “Of course there are individual travel plans that people have had to reconsider. But by setting the dates a year in advance, we provided a long lead time.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

A gravel pit near the Durango-La Plata County airport provides material for the $12.7 million runway resurfacing project. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango-La Plata County Airport hot mix asphalt plant is operating around the clock as part of a $12.7 million runway resurfacing project. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Brad Riddle, operations manager at Durango-La Plata County Airport, walks Thursday near the hot asphalt plant at Durango-La Plata County Airport which operates 24 hours a day as part of a $12.7 million runway resurfacing maintenance project at the airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The asphalt cutter removes the first 3 inches of asphalt from the runway at the Durango-La Plata County Airport on Thursday as part of a $12.7 million resurfacing maintenance project. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The 20-year-old asphalt on the runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport is being replaced due to age and degradation. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The 20-year-old asphalt on the runway at Durango-La Plata County Airport is being replaced due to age and degradation. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)


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