BWI renovation is down to earth

3 million cubic yards of dirt being moved in $136 million face lift


July 18, 1999|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport continues to move a record number of passengers, but travelers there might encounter something else moving in abundance these days: dirt. Three million cubic yards of it.

Maryland's international airport is in the midst of a $136 million growth spurt. Workers are creating a 16-gate pier, a seven-plane de-icing pad and a site that will become a terminal for cargo planes.

And it's all being done while more than 40,000 passengers fly in and out of BWI every day. Airport officials promise those passengers will come and go as usual, and that the construction will be no more troublesome than a picture in the window. But pulling it off can create logistical quandaries nearly as complex as the engineering ones.

That dirt is a big source of the complications. To grade a new taxiway for the cargo terminal along BWI's longest runway, workers need dirt, and the only place to get it is on the other side of the runway. That means periodic runway closings so that trucks can dash back and forth.

But closing one of BWI's three jet runways is a bit more complicated than closing, say, a highway or a driveway.

"Closing down a runway is a big deal," says Michael West, BWI's associate administrator for planning and engineering.

Notice to the pilots has to be published in advance. Wind direction must be monitored, because airplanes prefer to land and take off into the wind, and the big runway is the only one running east and west. Rain or fog can change the plans, because BWI's longest runway is also its best-equipped runway for instrument-guided flying.

Even if the runway is closed and the dirt is moved, workers must spend hours sweeping and clearing the pavement of rocks or soil when they're finished. Rocks kicked up by landing gear can be dangerous; rocks sucked into a jet engine can be deadly.

"We try not to close runways often," said West. "It's restricted to certain hours, there has to be notice published to airmen, it has to be coordinated with air-traffic controllers."

Runway closings aren't the only difficulty, however. Work inside the BWI terminal has required occasional gate closings and rerouting of passengers.

Eventually, several airlines will move to different piers inside the airport. Airport officials promise that the construction won't affect travel schedules or access inside the terminal, and it hasn't.

The only thing spoiled has been the view from BWI's observation gallery. The action on the runways has been cluttered by trucks, machinery and piles of earth.

The construction projects include:

Expansion of the airport's Pier B from six to 16 gates, expansion of Pier A from three to four gates and renovation of Pier D.

The projects will include the installation of sprinkler systems, heating and air conditioning systems and other upgrades.

Pier B will expand to become the exclusive home of Southwest Airlines, the airport's largest carrier, and Pier D will house its other major customer, US Airways.

The combined cost of the projects is $102.7 million. They will be completed in stages, with the last project scheduled to be finished in May 2002.

Building infrastructure for a 360,000-square-foot cargo complex.

The Maryland Aviation Administration will complete the grading, construction of access roads and other site preparations by December, and a private developer will lease the space and build a facility for handling air cargo.

The estimated cost for the state is $20.9 million.

A 700,000-square-foot pad for spraying planes with de-icing fluid before takeoff in freezing weather.

It will accommodate seven planes at a time and will be close to the runways to reduce the time between de-icing and takeoff.

600,000-gallon tank

A de-icing pad is more than just a concrete slab. A network of drains and pipelines will channel the fluid runoff into 600,000-gallon collection tanks, where it will be recycled or pumped to treatment plants.

The pad should be finished in January and cost $12.3 million.

Construction activity has become a regular occurrence at BWI, which has posted record numbers of passengers for five years and expects to handle more than 15 million travelers this year.

With passenger and cargo traffic on the rise, state officials expect the airport to post a $38 million profit in 1999.

Accommodating growth

The current projects follow the construction of the William Donald Schaefer International Terminal two years ago, runway extensions and other major expansions.

"I think it's becoming more and more typical at all airports in the United States," said West, who is coordinating the construction projects at BWI.

"Air travel is becoming more and more popular, low fares are making it more accessible, and we need to be able to accommodate that growth."

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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