Upgrades en route for Detroit Metro’s first runway

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The first runway built at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is set for a major overhaul to replace the aging strip and ease take-offs.

Airport officials hosted an informational meeting Thursday for residents and others to learn more about the upcoming reconstruction of Runway 3L-21R and its taxiways.

The estimated $240 million project is slated to begin in spring 2019 and wrap up by winter 2020, Wayne County Airport Authority leaders said.

“It’s a full-depth rehabilitation,” said Scott Roberts, capital improvement programs director with the airport authority. “Replacing it will provide savings in time and effort in maintenance. There are also some extensions of taxiways that will help air traffic control get the aircraft out to the runway end for departures more efficiently and get passengers to their destinations.”

Efforts are expected to take two construction seasons to complete, with Runway 3L/21R, which is near the McNamara and North terminals on the Romulus airport’s east side, being closed between spring and fall 2019, said Theresa Samosiuk, senior project manager with the authority.

The 8,500-linear-foot-long runway was constructed in the 1950s. Supervisors learned the runway and associated taxiways were nearing the end of their useful life.

Part of the runway and Taxiway V were reconstructed in 2009, and an asphalt overlay was installed in 2015 to extend the life for five years, according to the airport. But an extensive upgrade is necessary since the pavement typically has a life expectancy of about 30 years and it must comply with current Federal Aviation Administration standards, Roberts said.

The plans come as travel increases out of Detroit Metro, the state’s largest airport, which last year welcomed 34.4 million passengers, a million more than 2015, and offers some 1,100 flights daily to and from 140-plus nonstop destinations.

This year’s figures have not yet been compiled but are on track to top the 2016 numbers by about 1 percent, spokeswoman Erica Donerson said.

During the open house-style meeting Thursday at the Wayne County Community College District Downriver Campus in Taylor, airport officials highlighted displays describing some of the process and work expected on the runway project.

Crews are scheduled to replace runway and taxiway lighting, storm water and underdrain systems, circuits and duct bank, pavement sensors, signs and pavement marking. They’re also improving a de-icing pad.

Project design has been underway for months, and constructions bids go out next year. An environmental analysis also is being conducted.

Departures are expected to be diverted to other runways at the airport while 3L-21R is under repair, Samosiuk said.

The ongoing construction throughout the two years of the project, which involves excavating an estimated 1 million cubic yards, should not cause difficulties for airport travelers, she said. “If there are impacts, they will be minimal.”

The public has another chance to hear about the plans at a second informational meeting tentatively scheduled for early 2018.