Results of runway pavement study presented to Pitkin County Commissioners

Piece-mealing of the asphalt over time has led to degradation

On August 22, Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Director Dan Bartholomew and representatives from the engineering consultant firm Kimley-Horn updated the Pitkin County Commissioners on the condition of the airport’s runway. A comprehensive pavement structural evaluation performed in May showed cracking, patching, and weathering on the surface of the runway and more severe degradation underneath. Fourteen inches of asphalt were extracted in a core sample – the seven inches at the bottom fell apart upon extraction.

“Your runway has been quilted together since it was first paved in 1957. It’s been extended and widened multiple times so there are many sections that piece your runway together,” said Casey Adamson, P.E. of Kimley-Horn.

This piece-mealing of the runway over time has contributed to its degradation, particularly on the inner portion of the runway where aircraft land.

Kimley-Horn’s structural analysis included heavy weight deflectometer testing for weaknesses on the runway, pavement classification rating to determine the pavement’s condition, and estimating the remaining structural life of the runway for future planning.

“The pavement’s not going to fail tomorrow but it’s not something we can ignore either. We need to do some additional investigation to look into how it can be addressed. It’s not a danger or a safety issue right now but the problem must be dealt with soon,” said Dan Bartholomew, airport director.

Pavement maintenance, like what was done in May when the airport closed for two weeks, will continue on an annual basis until a longer term solution is found.

“The Airport Layout Plan is the first step in the process of fixing the runway long-term,” said Bartholomew. 

An updated Airport Layout Plan (ALP) would replace the airport’s existing ALP but needs approval from the county commissioners and the Federal Aviation Administration. Right now, airport staff and aviation consultant group Jacobsen Daniels are working to weave the community’s Common Ground recommendations into the updated ALP, which will be presented to the commissioners next year. Once the updated ALP and an associated Environmental Assessment are approved, the airport can get in line for federal funding for a long-term fix to the runway.

“We’re looking at an ALP approval by next year but we’re not looking at a catastrophic failure of the runway before then,” said Bartholomew.

Watch the Pavement Condition Report presentation to the BOCC.

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