Project would improve Kodiak airport runways, taxiways

An Alaska Airlines plane sits parked at Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport Thursday.

Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport will receive some much-needed upgrades to its taxiways and apron as early as next summer, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The state hosted a two-hour webinar Wednesday detailing a $45 million project to repair the asphalt on the airport’s taxiways and apron, which have approached the end of their 20-year lifespans. The project is slated to start in 2022 or 2023.

Due to the damage from planes landing and having to turn around on the taxiway, everything will need to be overhauled during a three-phase, three-year project.

The state contracted construction firm HDR and its subcontractors Shannon & Wilson Inc., MBA Consulting Engineers Inc. and Lounsbury and Associates to do project management work.

A Federal Aviation Administration grant will pay for 95% of the project, while Alaska will pay the remainder as a matching fund requirement.

Engineer Nick Straka, HDR’s project manager, said the first phase involves reconstructing the apron and taxiway to “support the heavier 737s and 800s that Alaska Airlines is using.”  

“We’re going to have a face-lift that will look nice and new, and perform for the next 20 to 30 years,” Straka said. 

Straka noted Benny Benson State Airport was selected due to its importance in the region. Classified as a “Part 139” hub, Kodiak’s airport serves both civilian and military aircraft. It accommodates the U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak as it responds to emergencies and rescue operations in the Kodiak and Aleutian Island regions.

The first phase will also include paving the apron’s service road driveways, and replacing lights, home runs, transformers and signs. Apron floodlighting will be installed on the west end, along with storm drainage infrastructure and, potentially, the water line used by the Coast Guard. A service road will be added between the apron and Devil’s Creek.

“Taxiway F will be a bit narrower when it’s done, but it’s too wide to begin with,” Straka said. “This will help with future rehabilitation costs.”

The second phase, expected in 2023 or 2024, will resurface taxiways C and D with a sealed grading to limit icing. 

“Maintenance has an issue of water going across the runway and freezing,” Straka said.

“Putting a crown surface in will help mitigate any type of icing issues along the centerline.”

Should construction start in 2022, Straka added, it would begin in June to give time for construction crews to study the area. In the following phases, work would likely start in May and go to October. 

Taxiway D will be extended to the end of Runway 8-26 while rerouting any utility or water lines. Runway 1-19 will also be repaired in the process. Straka said Alaska Airline planes have to “do a 180” after landing, damaging the asphalt in the process.

A service road will be relocated outside of taxiway safety areas, and the service road driveways leading on to taxiways C, D and F will be paved. Stormwater infrastructure will be replaced, and trees and brush blocking the air traffic control tower’s view of two taxiways will be cleared.

“The stormwater pipes are from the World War II era and have been degraded pretty bad, so we’re looking at replacing the entire storm drain system,” Straka said.

In phase three, HDR and its subcontractors will repair and resurface Runway 11-29 and Taxiway E, pave service road driveways to both, and replace the existing storm infrastructure, lighting, transformers and signs. 

Damage done to Runway 8-26 due to jet blasting and turning aircraft will be repaired in this phase as well to take advantage of utilizing equipment for multiple uses.

Straka stressed that the overall project may be scaled down due to the pandemic-related increase in construction material costs.

“It’s probably going to be quite a bit more than $45 million,” he said. “We will probably have to dial back some things to stay within the grant funding available.”

Joseph Galgano, the project’s environmental impact analyst, said an environmental assessment will map out and determine potential impacts to historic properties, public parks, wildlife refuges and fish. It will also check for jet fuel contamination. 

Galgano added there are just over 2 acres of previously undisturbed land on the taxiway extension area.

“We want to make sure we aren’t disturbing any unknown historic sites or sites of cultural importance,” Galgano said.

Straka said the project’s start time depends on getting it out to bid and on funding being authorized. 

“We’re just holding tight and hoping for the best to plan for 2022,” Straka said. “Fingers crossed that it’s better sooner than later because that apron is in pretty bad condition. It’s a nuisance for maintenance and operations at the moment.”

Straka said daily operations would not be heavily impacted during summer construction. Passengers wouldn’t notice much difference beyond slightly longer times on the plane while pilots go through detours. Pilots will have to use different taxiways while one is under construction.

“As far as the flow of the airport, it should really be minimal impact, but there will be some detours while runways or taxiways are being reconstructed,” Straka said. “Thankfully, we have a tower at the airport, so they will make sure that everyone is going in the right direction.”

Any essential information would be released as Notices to Airmen as the project goes through every stage of design.

Bob Stanford, owner of the building used by Island Air Service, asked about safety early in the morning before the traffic control tower opened for operations. He noted that planes come in early in the morning delivering mail and cargo.

Straka said protocols will be in place during construction.

“There will be times where a runway will be closed at night, so just keep an eye out for the giant lighted decks at the end of the runway,” Straka said. Additionally, flashers would be posted to visually assist and guide planes on the apron, as well as temporary centerlines.

“It should be very well marked to help guide pilots to minimize confusion for pilots,” Straka said.

Other questions asked by residents included security concerns during construction. Straka said that in the scenario where fencing had to be removed, temporary fencing or personnel would be in place to adhere to Transportation Safety Administration guidelines. 

Other concerns included getting to airplanes parked on the apron during construction. 

Straka said temporary parking areas would be established to allow pilots and passengers access.

“We can split the apron up in several different ways to accommodate leaseholders’ needs,” Straka said. “It’s just a matter of determining what all those needs are.”

The next phase before the project goes out to bid involves pushing the design to 100% from its current 75% status, getting public feedback and comment, executing the National Environmental Policy Act guidelines and going out to bid.

For more information on the project, visit kodiakairportrehab.com.

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