By Isaac Bonnell
Though the Bellingham International Airport (BLI) was closed for three weeks in September, the place was hardly quiet.
Construction crews worked round-the-clock tearing up the runway, leveling it, repaving it and adding new lighting and drainage. Despite being plagued by rain, crews were able to reopen the runway to commercial flights on the morning of Sept. 22.
This is the first major repair work done to the runway since it opened in 1941, and it was no small task. The $29 million project included the laying of more than 174,000 tons of asphalt. The new runway surface is strong enough to serve larger aircraft such as Boeing 757s.
Icon Materials of Tukwila was the general contractor on the project and hired more than two dozen local subcontractors. The port estimates that 250 skilled trades people worked on the project.
To resurface the runway, crews laid 17.5-foot-wide swaths of asphalt while several steamrollers followed behind to pack it down. At night, when the asphalt would cool quicker, there would be up to eight steamrollers at a time pressing the asphalt before it hardened, said port Aviation Director Art Choat.
The project began back in April, when construction crews started replacing sections of the adjoining taxiway. That work will continue into November and nightly closures will still be in effect from about midnight until 5 a.m.
As runway improvements wrap up, the port will turn its attention to the commercial terminal. The port plans to launch a $30 million terminal expansion project that will result in a terminal that is three times the size of the current facility. The Port Commission is expected to award a bid on the $7 million first phase of the terminal project later this fall.