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The smell of fresh tar wafted through the air on a recent afternoon at Porter County Regional Airport while steamrollers and other heavy equipment rolled by.
The warm, sunny day produced heat-induced mirages in the distance on the airport's freshly paved east-west runway.
"It smells like we're on schedule," airport manager Kyle Kuebler said while surveying the scene.
The airport is in the midst of the second phase of a three-phase project that started last year and will cost an estimated $12.6 million. The work entails reconstructing the east-west runway, the bigger of the two runways at the airport, as well as its taxiway.
"This has been the biggest project since the airport was built" in 1948, said Paul Chael, president of the airport authority.
Kuebler expects the current phase of paving to finish up around the end of the month, at which point the runway will be painted with temporary markings and reopen after closing in late April. After the asphalt cures for 30 days, the pavement will be grooved to prevent hydroplaning and receive permanent markings.
The airport received $11.4 million in federal grant money for the work, which started last year and required closing the airport for nine days last August to repave the intersection of the facility's east-west and north-south runways and part of the taxiway system.
The Federal Aviation Administration is funding 90 percent of the work, Kuebler said, with a state match from the Indiana Department of Transportation of 5 percent. The Regional Development Authority and the county provided the remaining 5 percent; the county council and commissioners voted in March to cover their $317,197 tab with Major Moves funds.
The final phase of the project, which is finishing the taxiway, will be completed later this year or early next year, Kuebler said, adding the airport board is reviewing bids for that part of the project.
At 7,000 feet, the east-west runway is the same length as the runway at Chicago's Midway Airport. During the reconstruction, pilots have had to use the smaller, north-south runway, which is 4,000 feet.
"There's always inconvenience but it's necessary to keep a safe and active environment," Kuebler said.
Chael added that the airport has been able to handle 90 percent of its usual traffic on the shorter runway and planes requiring longer landing strips were diverted to airports in Gary or South Bend.
While the east-west runway was originally constructed in 1966, Kuebler said the repaving projects since then didn't hold up the 20 years that the FAA expects, and the time between repaving kept decreasing.
Ultimately, state and FAA officials decided to go for a complete reconstruction, Kuebler said. All of the old asphalt removed for the project is being reused on-site to refurbish gravel access roads or build new ones.
"What made this project so big and expensive is we literally tore it down to gravel," Chael said. "It was crumbling from below."
The timing of the project helped, Chael added, because asphalt prices are low, which kept the price down and cheaper than it would have been a few years ago.
"We had some really good weather, hot and dry," he said. "It's not good for anything else but it's good for paving."
Original article can be found here: http://www.chicagotribune.com