JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter lifted straight up from its hangar at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, then flew north over the busy runways on a recent Monday headed toward the St. Johns River.
But it isn’t aircraft crowding the base’s 8,000- and 6,000-foot-long main runways these days. Instead, dump trucks and backhoes are halfway through a $52 million overhaul of the 75-year-old base’s fixed-wing runways between the river and Roosevelt Boulevard. A reopening is planned for June 26.
Begun June 8, the project has seen up to 100 workers and dozens of pieces of equipment tearing up old, then laying down new runways, some dating back to the 1950s. Workers even found buried 70-year-old fuel tanks.
Standing atop the air traffic control tower, Air Operations Cmdr. Stephen Polk looked down at newly laid parts of runway 10 /28 and 14 /32’s huge eastern intersection as trucks carried more asphalt and concrete from on-site plants nearby.
“It’s been a tremendous undertaking,” Polk said. “... It did take considerable time to get down to a good sub-grade before they could build up the 15 inches of concrete. But looking at it now, we are excited and ecstatic about opening back up on time.”
Along with new runways and taxiways, which measure about 200 football fields in length, comes demolition of three obsolete hangars from World War II. That clears another 1,000 feet of space to park the base’s new Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft as well as those flying in from across the country to VP-30, the Navy’s national P-8 training center. Military crews will also come from Thailand, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere to learn how to fly and maintain their P8As.
“I look at concrete nonstop,” base airfield manager Doug Chaney joked. “... The runway has been milled and the next phase will be to put down asphalt. We have new lights and we will have upgraded instrument approaches.”
Florida’s first naval air station was opened in 1940. Plans to repair its runways have been in the works for five years, since the last comprehensive overhaul in 1967. Better runways are also needed to handle the 129-foot-long P-8A reconnaissance planes that are replacing the Navy’s aging 117-foot-long Lockheed P3 Orions.
“We were originally going to repair this [east] end back in 2010 for about $7.8 million,” Chaney said. “But when the new engineers came out and looked at it again with more tests, we found it was not suitable for the new aircraft that were coming and we knew we had to make modifications.”
The rebuild, done by Archer Western of Tampa, started with removal of old concrete, reused as the base layer for new runways and wider taxiways, Navy SeaBees Lt. Jamie Wallace said.
“We’ve crushed about 100,000 tons of concrete on station and reused it all,” she said. “We’ve done the same with the asphalt. ... We will take off the first two layers of asphalt, about two inches worth. We recycle that asphalt into the new blast or shoulder pavement.”
Before any work began, the Navy relocated the base’s 38 fixed-wing aircraft and 2,000 crews and civilian employees to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s Cecil airport, the first time that military air traffic controllers have operated out of a civilian U.S. airport.
The runway project also includes a new helicopter landing pad at the east end, wider turning lanes, changed runway designations and LED lighting that could save $1 million in energy use, Wallace said. The redone runways will also handle the new MH-60R helicopter and a MQ-4C Triton drone training center.
©2016 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
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