New main runway at Reynolds Field improves safety and primes pump for revenue growth

October 10, 2018


Jackson County Airport/Reynolds Field
Jackson County Airport/Reynolds Field (photo courtesy of Airport Improvement)

Officials at Jackson County Airport/Reynolds Field (JXN) in Michigan are pleased with the results of a $49 million runway project completed last fall, because they see it improving operational safety, creating new opportunities to generate more revenue and bolstering the airport’s position as a local driver of economic growth.

More than 15 years in the making, the project involved shifting and extending a 3,500-foot crosswind runway to 4,000 feet in length and relocating/building a new 5,350-foot main runway. The intersection of the two runways was moved approximately 500 feet north to create room for 1,000-foot-long runway safety areas for the main runway and 300-foot-long runway safety areas for the crosswind runway.

The new design rotated the main runway about 10 degrees clockwise to maintain proper orientation for prevailing winds, while the updated crosswind runway kept its original orientation. The project also added a new parallel taxiway for each runway to ease congestion and make operations safer; new lighting systems for the taxiways and main runway; and roughly 16,500 linear feet of perimeter fencing.

Given its scope, the project required the cooperation of local, state and FAA officials. The project’s success underscores the importance of maintaining good relationships with such agencies, says Kent Maurer, who served as airport manager at JXN for 16 years and retired earlier this year.

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Planning & Design

The new crosswind runway built during 2007 and 2008 ensured that the airport could maintain aircraft operations during construction of the new main runway. The airport also completed the intersection of the new crosswind runway and new main runway at this time. “It was a good decision by Mead & Hunt, the consulting engineers,” Maurer notes. “We were able to use the crosswind runway (as a primary runway) only because that new intersection was already constructed. That allowed for a lot more functionality.”

Dan Kehoe, Aviation Project Manager, Mead & Hunt
Dan Kehoe, Aviation Project Manager, Mead & Hunt

Construction of the main runway was divided into two phases, largely due to the timing of funding distributions and the need to keep the main runway open as long as possible. “We could’ve done most of the major earthwork during the first phase, but the impact would’ve been too severe,” says Dan Kehoe, project manager of aviation services at Mead & Hunt. “We couldn’t take the main runway out of service for almost two years.”

The first phase focused on completing major earthwork on the west end of the project and relocating the landfill. It started in November 2015, stopped that December, resumed in March 2016 and finished that October.

Refuse from the landfill was taken to other certified landfills in the region. In all, crews removed about 200,000 cubic yards (260,000 tons) of material—enough to fill 6,700 double-bottom gravel haulers.

“Of course, you then have this big hole that requires you to haul in another 200,000 cubic yards of dirt to fill it,” Maurer says. “Plus, that end of runway was low, so it had to be brought up to grade.” Overall, the airport imported about 1 million cubic yards of soil.

Pleasant Surprises

In fall 2014, the FAA decided to provide nearly $10 million in discretionary funds to JXN at one time rather than in two phases as airport officials anticipated. The mid-project funding windfall prompted a course-correction for the bidding process.

“We knew we’d need a significant amount of asphalt, almost 32,000 tons, which would eat up a lot of money,” Kehoe explains. “So we ended up bidding all of it out at one time. The contractors worked with us on the pricing (to accommodate any price increases that might occur during the project); but asphalt prices stabilized somewhat anyway, so it was almost a moot point.”

During the second phase of the project, crews removed the old runway and built the new main runway and associated parallel taxiway. They also installed taxiway lighting and approach lighting for the runway. In an eco-friendly move, construction crews used roughly 25,000 cubic yards of pulverized asphalt and gravel debris from the old runway to build the sub-base for the new one.

That recycling effort not only reduced the cost of buying and hauling in new materials; it also decreased expenses associated with trucking away and disposing pavement debris from the old runway. “It saved about $250,000,” Kehoe estimates. “That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the entire project, but every little bit helps.”

The last stage of the project involved building the intersection where the new taxiway meets the crosswind runway. The new runway opened in mid-September 2017, and the crosswind runway-taxiway intersection opened in November.

Overall, the airport was closed for less than a week—four days while crews laid the asphalt pavement for the new main runway, and two other nights, while crews grooved the runway at the intersection.

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Cooperation & Leadership Forge Success

The FAA originally proposed shortening the old runway to create safety areas and decrease project costs. But given the economic implications, JXN, county and state transportation officials all actively lobbied for a new runway. Their success reflects the importance of cooperative relationships with local government, Zapata notes.

“In years past, a community could get a political sponsor to get a new runway constructed or lengthened,” he says. “Now, all projects need justification. As less and less of airport operations come from the small general aviation community, airport sponsors need to cater to the segment of aviation that is growing tremendously. So any airport interested in providing the best benefit to their community needs to accommodate corporate aviation.”

In retrospect, Maurer says bringing all the relevant stakeholders together and keeping them focused on the project was essential to project’s success. “They all have their own projects going, too,” he points out. “But the stars really aligned for this project …we had the right people in the right places.” Maurer specifically credits the county commissioners, county airport board and James Shotwell Jr., the long-reigning chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, as instrumental to the project’s success.

“We had very good DNA on this project,” he reflects. “Many people made it a priority for 15 years—from the initial runway safety study in 2002, when alternatives were explored, right up to project completion.”

Kehoe agrees that it was a special project. “There aren’t a lot of brand-new runways being built these days, so everyone had to be at the top of their game,” he says. “Working with Jackson County officials was great because they provided such good leadership. Everyone’s goals were aligned… they knew this was a top-priority project because of the economic impact on the county.”

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