BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Runways and taxi zones began getting smooth, new coats of asphalt at Tri-Cities Regional Airport on Saturday morning as part of a $15 million facelift that will place milling and paving crews on non-stop shifts for the next two weekends.
It was an eerie sight with no radar rotation on the massive receiver located in the airport’s west campus and no jets or airliners waiting for take off, but facility Executive Director Patrick Wilson said four years of planning, filing for grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and sacrificing thousands in revenue would provide for happier landings in the years to come.
“It’s been about 25 or 30 years since some of the pavement was redone on the runway. We go through a process many times a year where we evaluate the pavement and we could see that it was reaching the end of its surface life, so we want to be well ahead of any issues that would make it dangerous for aircraft,” Wilson said.
The facility and surrounding revenue generators like rental cars, aviation fuel distributors and airline vendors are at a stand still, causing about a $70,000 stoppage in cash flow for this and next weekend with no consumer traffic, Wilson added, but the airport gave all affected parties including flight customers a one year notice of the paving job.
Over 50,000 tons of new asphalt is being strategically laid on the runway by crews with Summers-Taylor, Inc., of Elizabethton with milling machines that run off of GPS mapping controlled by radio signals and lasers to mill and re-grade the surface because of sediment issues that have changed the grade of the surface, according to company Executive and CEO Grant Summers.
A work force of 200 people and 80 dump trucks will be on a continuous schedule onsite for the paving period with rotating 12-hour shifts until the entire 8,000-foot by 150-foot runway on both sides of the airfield is repaved, Wilson said.
Lighting along the runway path is also being replaced while plane traffic is at a standstill, along with new drainage systems to preserve the new asphalt and mandated FAA upgrades to the radar system, Wilson noted.
“A job of this magnitude will result in some inconveniences for the traveling public, but paving work had progressed to a point where it could not be avoided, and this is something we will likely not have to do for another 25 years,” he said.