The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

DOT to reopen airport runway


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Economical use of DOT staff and other in-house resources has seen the construction of a diversion dike between the Resurrection River and the major Seward Airport runway for a price tag of around $500,000.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities expects to open the main runway at Seward Airport as soon as weather allows painting of pavement markings. The initial opening will be for daytime use by aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. Nighttime takeoffs and landings will have to wait until the lighting system along the newly repaired and armored northern edge of runway 13/31 is restored.

According to Randy Vanderwood, a spokesperson for DOT’s aviation division, the state agency has pulled together a lot of manpower along with around $500,000 in funding to secure and restore the tarmac at the edge of the Resurrection River. He says that the new dike won’t resolve the matter of seasonal flooding on the runway and connecting aprons, but it will keep the river’s main current at bay while state agencies work on a long-term solution.

Vanderwood and DOT’s Central Region staff have had a crash course in the hydrology of drainages surrounding Resurrection Bay. Off the top of his head, Vanderwood cites the issue of at least seven million cubic yards of gravel piling up each year along the confluence of the Resurrection River and the bay. He says staff are aware that there are limited ways to deal with the rising river bed and secure state facilities including the DOT maintained Seward Highway and Nash Road.

With retirements in key positions in the department, some related institutional knowledge and momentum was temporarily lost, but Vanderwood says that DOT’s interest in resolving flooding issues have center stage at Central Region’s Anchorage headquarters.

The airport repair project was pulled together on short notice and because of the number of projects already in progress and scarce funding, Vanderwood said they had to use available DOT staff and lease additional bulldozers and excavators. “We didn’t have the necessary equipment available from our fleet,” he said. “We wanted to get the runway repaired, protected and open before winter, and the timeline was very short.”

Using available fill and rock from DOT and Department of Natural Resources sites, the project was able to economize, but also work quickly. Replacement pavement was applied this week and some minor work remains. However, with the additional buffer zone including a ditch for runoff, the levee effectively keeps the Resurrection River at least a 100 yards from the edge of the tarmac.

After opening the runway, the department will evaluate runway use by heavier aircraft. As city administration noted at Monday’s city council meeting, the trucks hauling rock were several times heavier than the limit on aircraft weight that DOT is initially restricting the runway to.

Vanderwood said that other DOT involved projects in the Seward area are proceeding with major work on the Mile 17 paving due to wrap up over the next week. He says that was another accelerated project. “The roadbed probably wouldn’t have survived another winter,” he said. “For safety reasons, the department dug deep to get that project finished this year.”

He also said that the new Crown Point maintenance station will likely be ready for staffing by January, but that DOT’s maintenance and operations division would be taking the transition from use of the Seward station methodically. “We want to get a feel for how snow clearing will be affected by changes in where equipment is based,” Vanderwood said.

The city has expressed concern that, since the typical winter snowfall is significantly heavier over the first 12 miles of the Seward Highway, equipment based solely out of Crown Point may not be responsive enough. Vanderwood says that DOT will be taking care to make sure that current levels of service are not compromised by the move.


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