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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Almost Ready for Takeoff

The runway relocation at Evansville Regional Airport, which is now underway, will improve safety and put the runway in line with federal rules. But once the $67 million project is complete, passengers probably won’t notice the difference.

Doug Joest, executive director of the Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District, says the trouble with the runway was obstructions at the southwest end. Planes landing from that direction could not use the first 2,000 feet of the 8,000-foot runway because of nearby obstructions such as buildings.

The problem was identified about seven years ago when the airport completed a new master plan. Federal rules stipulated that the runway had to be changed before the end of 2015. After doing an environmental impact study and looking at several options, it was decided that the best idea was to shift the runway 2,400 feet to the northeast.

“That allows us enough room at the southwest end to comply with the requirements and still have enough space on the northeast end,” says Joest. “Plus, we’ll be able to use the full-length of the runway for landings.”

Planning on the runway project began six years ago. A portion of Oak Hill Road had to be relocated, as did a section of Indiana Southern’s railroad track. The airport acquired land for those relocations. Indiana 57 had to be moved a few feet to the northwest and 7,000 feet of new fence was installed. Work on the runway itself began March 5.

“The last two years, we’ve been doing everything but the runway,” says Joest. “We added almost a mile of road and two roundabouts. We are finally getting to work on the airport now.”

The airport opened in 1928 with a single runway intended only for propeller-driven aircraft. That runway was later expanded for jets, the first of which arrived in 1964. The original runway, in the same location as the one now being rebuilt, was far shorter than what today’s planes require.

“It’s not like the runway was built below standards, it’s just time to catch up,” says Joest.

The runway slopes upward at its northeast end, and the reconstruction process will decrease the incline. The shift will also completely separate the two runways, which had intersected in the past. That intersection caused planes to need to cross over the other runway twice before takeoff.

“Operations on each runway will be separated,” says Joest. “It is not a huge safety issue, but it is an added safety factor. It was a plus. If you were building an airport today, you would not build one with intersecting runways.”

All of the pavement being removed from the old runway will be recycled. The asphalt will be sent back to a plant to be reused, while the concrete will be crushed on-site and used as aggregate for the runway’s base. The process saves both time and money.

The runway will be about 2 feet thick, made of asphalt. It will be able to accommodate much larger airplanes than what the airport currently serves. The new runway should be ready for departures and visual approaches in August. Depending on how quickly the Federal Aviation Administration moves, it could be open to instrument approaches by September.

During construction, all flights will use the north-south runway usually reserved for private aircraft. No flight schedules have been changed, and passengers will still board at the terminal. However, because the runway is about 2,000 feet shorter than the main one, seats on some flights might not be sold due to weight for the shorter takeoffs.

“Once the pavement is down, the FAA has to come in and fly the instrument approaches,” says Joest. “Those are the landings when pilots depend on electronics because they can’t see ion reduced visibility. They will publish those procedures for pilots and all the airplane databases.”

Of the $67 million for the project, 90 percent comes from the FAA Airport Improvement Program. That’s a fund that comes from a tax on airline tickets. The state is contributing about 2 percent, and the rest comes from the airport’s capital improvement fund.

“If we didn’t meet the safety standards by the deadline, the FAA would have displaced the threshold further, and we would effectively had a much shorter runway,” says Joest. “The runway would have been too short for commercial airlines.”

The construction was done in nine phases, allowing local contractors to bid on the work. Other than specialized items — laying the new rail line and moving FAA electronic equipment — most of the companies that did the work were from the Tri-State area. Between 75 and 125 workers will be working at the site this year. CHA Consulting, which has an Evansville office, did most of the engineering work.

Joest says local residents, landowners, and drivers have been willing to put up with some obstacles as the runway project has progressed. He’s also glad to be able to finish the work a year ahead of schedule, thanks to available funding.

“We understand that we’ve disrupted traffic flows, some temporary and some permanent,” he says. “We just appreciate everybody’s understanding and cooperation.”

For more information on Evansville Regional Airport, call 812-421-4401 or visit flyevv.com.

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