HJ Atlanta Int'l Airport
The airport's old control tower comes crashing down in a controlled implosion.

A huge construction program is unfolding at the main airport in Atlanta, which has also established itself as an innovator for fast runway construction and soon may take the lead with a new kind of taxiway. The progress is being made despite escalating material and labor costs, long fabrication lead times and a fight between the airport and a design team that has slowed work on a new terminal.

Overall, the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is steadily progressing through one of the largest airport capital improvement programs in the nation. The $6.2-billion, 10-year program includes a people mover-linked remote rental car facility, new runway, new control tower, runway replacements, new taxiways and a new terminal.

“It’s one of the largest capital improvement programs in the nation,” says Dick Marchi, senior adviser for policy and regulatory affairs with Airport Council International—North America. The Atlanta program also stands out for its innovations. “They have been a leader in building runways on an abbreviated schedule,” he says.

The Atlanta Airport is further separating itself from the pack with its current project to install an “end-around” taxiway, Marchi says. Only the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is working to install one, while no other airport has passed the consideration stage. This is an alternative to taxiways that cut across parallel runways.

The airport recently awarded a $91 million contract to Omaha, Neb.-based Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. to replace Runway 8R with only 60 days of downtime. For a concrete structure, that is no small feat. Kiewit is addressing that timetable by beginning demolition while the runway is still in operation.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Kiewit/Gilbert Southern (above) was performing the concrete paving work for its runway 8R reconstruction project in September. Old runway sections are removed in sections (below).

For 30 days prior to the shutdown, the runway was saw cut into 6 by 12-ft. sections with 16-in.-deep longitudinal cuts and 6-in-deep transverse cuts of the Portland cement concrete surface. Once the runway was shut down on Sept. 7, Kiewit rolled out excavators to remove the slabs whole. Kiewit then removed the 6 in. of base-course aggregate and placed a 2-in. leveling layer of asphalt. A 20-in. layer of concrete goes atop the leveling layer.

If not ready for operations by the November deadline, Kiewit will face $225,000 per day in liquidated damages.

Taxiway V, the $37.6 million end-around taxiway, was awarded to Archer Western Contractors, Atlanta in fall 2005 with work beginning in February. The project will give the airport a new taxiway that will prevent planes from having to queue to cross runways between takeoffs and landings.

“Taxiway V will create a projected savings of $36 million per year in fuel costs for the airlines,” says Cathryn Masters, senior project manager with the Atlanta Department of Aviation. The taxiway will also increase runway efficiency, potentially reducing delays and allowing the airport to handle more traffic.

The project is more than putting pavement on the ground, though. To make room for the structure, Archer Western has to move the non-licensed vehicle road. That requires a series of moves, starting with moving the terminal road into the north economy lot.

The Interstate 85 access ramp will be moved into the space once occupied by the terminal road, and the border of the airfield will extend into the location of the former ramp. The project also requires a 1,660-ft. retaining wall and removal of 1.2 million cu. yards of dirt to lower the site to meet the end of the runway.

The airport’s new consolidated rental car facility is the largest project under construction in the capital program at an estimated cost of $468 million. Between the buildings and the automated people mover, $385 million in contracts have been let. The first for mass grading, valued at $12.5 million, went to a joint venture led by Precision 2000 in July 2005.

The two biggest contacts were awarded in October, 2005. The first went to a joint venture between Austin Commercial, Dallas and PRAD Group. The Austin-led group is a construction manager-at-risk on the $202-million rental facility.

The design is in the final stages, and the joint venture group will start work soon. The projected completion date is October, 2008.

The airport will be linked to the rental facility with an automated people mover in the hopes of providing relief to the congested terminal roadway. “We went with the APM because it is a much higher level of service than the bus operation,” Masters says. “We also have issues with our curb length. By removing the buses from the curbside, it will make life much easier for the departing and arriving passengers.”

The APM will have three stops along its 1.5-mi. length: the terminal, the convention center and the rental facility.

Unlike the rental facility, the much more complex APM is already under construction. A joint venture between Archer Western and Capital Contracting Co., Atlanta, is designing and building the $170.5 million project. Archer Western has placed 40% of the columns for the elevated guideway.

The project fell victim to the erratic price escalation patterns of the recent years.
“This is definitely a job where we got burned on escalation of materials and labor, Casey says. “We negotiated an escalation clause with the airport, but it will not cover everything.”

Archer Western also was hurt by a delay in the notice to proceed. “If we had settled on the escalation clause a month later, we would have gotten much higher escalation and been closer to covering it,” Casey adds.

Archer Western was able to leverage the design-build nature of the contract to mitigate the potential hit from escalation to its bottom line. “As soon as we did get a notice to proceed, we started letting contracts as soon as we had enough design,” Casey says. “We were also letting purchase orders and allowing them to fabricate as much material as is practical.”

The company also has run into another problem plaguing the construction industry, long fabrication lead times.

“We have had to adjust our schedule for steel fabrication,” Casey says. The portion of the project that requires steel, the spans over the interstate, are also facing delays because of the Georgia Department of Transportation. “The DOT required the department of aviation to relocate the columns to work with the future connector-distributor roadway,” Casey adds. The new column placement made the spans longer, necessitating a complete redesign. Despite the hiccups the APM is expected to be finished on time.

Meanwhile, the Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal continues to be the sore thumb of the capital improvement program. The airport and The Design Team, a joint venture led by Omaha-based Leo A. Daly, have been locked in litigation since the department terminated the The Design Team for cause in August 2005. The airport has selected a new designer to rework the plans to bring cost projections within the construction budget, but the The Design Team has obtained an injunction blocking the airport from proceeding.

Archer Western has nearly completed the site preparation work in anticipation of the eventual resolution of the conflict between the airport and the The Design Team.

This story first appear in the November issue of Southeast Construction