Runway paving taking off

The paving work to lengthen the Santa Maria Public Airport’s main runway is about to take off.

John Smith, project manager with Tartaglia Engineering, said the pavement, which should begin being laid on Monday, is the icing of a 1,700-foot long, 150-foot wide, 55-inch thick layer cake.

Crews from Granite Construction, the general contractor on both phases of runway project, laid a test strip of asphalt Thursday in a holding bay near the end of the extended taxiway.

The runway extension will allow increased use of the airport by both commercial passenger and cargo carriers.

“We’re anticipating probably 14 days of paving and the test strip, which is where we’re at right now, is where we fine tune the paving process,” Smith explained. “We put down a certain amount of material and we test the snot out of it to make sure it’s up to standards.”

Paving crews were pouring and rolling approximately 75 tons to specially mixed asphalt Thursday morning, brought in from Granite Construction’s Buellton plant. Another 75 tons were laid in the afternoon. As it was laid, a series of tests were performed, including for compaction, one of the most critical measurements.

The asphalt will be laid on acres of compacted native soil and several different layers of rock and crushed aggregate. All of it must meet Federal Aviation Administration standards before it will be approved for use. That date is tentatively set for April 5.

If measurements taken today go as expected, paving will begin on the one-third mile extension of the main runway.

“FAA paving is known to be a challenge. It’s not for the faint of heart. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the contractors who do it,” Smith said. “The weather has absolutely been in our favor. Last year was bad.”

The first phase of the project – extending the taxiway and relocating utilities for the navigational aids for the instrument landing system – began more than a year ago during one of the wettest winters on record. So far this year, crews have worked unimpeded by rain.

The second phase construction of the approximately $12 million project is estimated to cost $5.4 million and will extend the runway pavement 1,700 feet and relocate navigational aids. It’s entering the home stretch, airport General Manager Chris Hastert said.  “We’re still hoping to have everything wrapped up with the paving by the end of February,” he said. “There’s a lot of work as far as the (Federal Aviation Administration) is concerned, striping, lighting and everything else.”

The runways at the airport are grooved to allow for rain runoff, Hastert said, so once the pavement is laid, it will have to be grooved. Signs indicating distance and taxiway locations will also have to be added.

The airport will also get new runway lighting, which will shut off at night to save energy. The new lighting will be activated by incoming or outgoing pilots from their planes.  “This is the exciting part of the project. Not that the rest of it isn’t important, but this is the part that everybody can see,” Hastert said.

By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer Santa Maria Times | Posted: Friday, January 6, 2012