Durango-La Plata County Airport is scheduled to reopen at 11:59 p.m. Friday after the completion of a multimillion-dollar repaving project that required a 10-day closure.
The first commercial flight since the reopening is planned to arrive at DRO around 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
Milling and asphalt paving of DRO’s runway and taxiways, line painting and installation of an LED edge-lighting system made up most of the work conducted by Four Corners Materials, Dibble Engineering and airport staff members from Sept. 7 through Friday, said Tony Vicari, aviation director.
The milling operation shaved off the top 3 inches of asphalt across the entire runway that is 9,201 feet long and 150 feet wide – or almost 1.4 million square feet of surface area, he said.
Construction crews from Four Corners Materials worked 24/7 in shifts to meet the project’s 10-day deadline. The whole operation cost $12.7 million and is expected to increase the airport runway’s lifetime by about 10 years, Vicari said.
“Crews were working nonstop on both the initial milling of the asphalt and then paving right behind it,” he said. “It was a very intricate operation to make it happen in that timeline.”
Four Corners Materials set up an on-site asphalt batch plant to create hot mix asphalt at the airport so less time was spent transporting materials. Vicari said about 200 crew members worked on the project from start to finish and the scale of operations made it appear as if a small city had cropped up around the airport.
“Very fun to work on an impactful project and have a really good team between airport staff, our contractor and then our primary engineering group,” he said.
The project team was prepared with backup equipment in case one machine or another broke, Vicari said, but the one thing nobody could prepare for was the weather. He said weather impacts were small and the crews got enough of a head start in the first five days of work that when it did rain, it wasn’t an issue.
“Certainly, there’s that little part in the back of the mind where you’re worried that you’re still hitting your timelines, but we had positioned ourselves really well up to that point,” he said. “Thankfully, it never got to that point where we were significantly concerned about meeting the deadline.”
Vicari said the project needed a massive amount of “sheer effort” to successfully prepare the runway for reopening by Saturday.
“I think it’s a statement of the professionalism and the preparedness of the whole group from airport to engineering to contractors that made it go so smoothly,” he said.
He said he is aware the airport’s closure caused a disruption to residents and visitors, and he thanked the public for its patience.
“We totally understand that there’s never a good time to close the runway and subsequently cut off most of the services at the airport,” he said.
The first commercial arrivals are scheduled for 9:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. with the first departures planned for the 10 o’clock hour Saturday morning, although it is possible that some private air traffic will land before the airlines start flying in, he said.
Vicari said it is hard to say with certainty how long it will take for flight traffic to return to preconstruction normals, but in his discussions with airline managers at the airport, their flight loads for Saturday “look strong.”
“It would appear just from chatting with the local airline staff that the demand will pop back pretty quickly,” he said. “I’m expecting that we’re going to see pretty close to normal traffic loads here within the first couple days of the project wrapping up.”
Some additional work will be needed, although it shouldn’t interfere with normal airport operations.
Vicari said after a 30-day cure period for the new asphalt, crews will return in October to groove the asphalt for additional water channeling and increased friction for aircraft banking. That project is scheduled to occur during planned night closures when there are no scheduled flights.