By Emily Allen
January 15, 2011
Top amenities, a daily-use grass strip and access to top hunting and fishing currently draw customers to the Calhoun County Airport, but upgrades to the property are expected to keep the airport busy.
Awarded under the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Capital Improvement Program, the $3.3 million-dollar grant (including a 10 percent match from the county) spent most of 2009 in the engineering phase before construction began in 2010. Precinct 2 Commissioner Vern Lyssy said work completed under the grant would be long-term improvements.
“This is major rehab work here. If it has little cracks, maybe in 10 years you may have to do a light coat of something on it,” Lyssy said. “But as far as major work like this, we’re looking at 20-25 years.”
The construction is being completed in two phases, beginning with the expansion of the apron and overlay on the taxiway. Resurfacing and widening of the taxiway will allow for the airport to accommodate larger planes.
“Now we should be rated for higher weight tolerance for jets, which will be a benefit to the county,” airport manager Dianna Stanger said. “This will really help with Poco Bueno traffic; everything should be done by May or so.”
Crews continue to work to complete the first phase of construction by sealing cracks and ensuring the taxiway is level. Prior to construction, Lyssy said a section of the taxiway had sunk nine inches and retained water, just part of the airport drainage corrected by work completed under the grant.
“When it cracks like that, water gets in, the base gets soft and it starts giving way,” Lyssy said. “The ground here shifts a lot, so when it dries, it cracks that far so something’s got to give… years of just shifting causes that to happen, so it causes the breakaway.”
Completed under the first phase of construction, the extension of the apron directly beside the airport offices allows for additional parking of larger planes or a greater number of smaller planes. While the apron could previously park five small planes, it can now hold 26.
The installation of an underground drain and paved contour of the apron’s surface also prevent standing water from collecting near the planes.
Additional work includes the installation of new electrical light fixtures along the runway to provide larger signage for pilots as they navigate through the airport.
Lyssy said the first phase of construction is scheduled for completion by the end of February, after which crews will move onto phase two: the airport’s runway.
“They’re going to overlay and put two-and-a-half to three inches of overlay onto this runway,” Lyssy said. “The second phase has already been bid out; Hunter has been awarded the project.”
The airport has made efforts to keep as much of its property open for use during construction, which will require some temporary adaptation for pilots.
“The time that the runway is closed for overlay, the pilots will have to land on the taxiway,” Stanger said. “It’s 2500-ft long and very narrow, so it’s going to take some skill, but we want the area pilots to know in advance.”
Surprisingly, construction costs have come in lower than anticipated. Lyssy noted that the phase two bid was nearly $250,000 less than the originally proposed estimate, while phase one came in $200,000 under the initial estimate. It remains unclear if the money saved will be able to be put to use on further improvements for the airport, such as additional lighting.
“It all depends on TxDOT, if they have the money to allow you to use that money to finish other projects you wanted to do here,” Lyssy said. “We already have our match there, I just want to utilize everything they have because there won’t be any future money the way everything is going.”
The upgrades created through the grant are the most recent in list of changes made to the airport, which was named the most improved airport in the state during the 2009 Texas Aviation Conference. Previous improvements include the addition of a 24-hour fueling system, remodeled hangars, a new rotating beacon, landscaping in the front entrance and a new security system.