When you see people playing the slot machines in McCarran International Airport’s terminals, thank them.
They’re helping to pay for the $67 million rehabilitation of the airport’s longest runway.
McCarran’s 14,505-foot east-west Runway 25R/7L was closed today to begin work on a capital improvement project that will last 12 months with work split over two years.
The runway, the third-longest commercial airport strip in the United States, will be shut down through May 1, opened for the summer months, then closed again Oct. 28, 2015, through May 1, 2016.
Contractors are replacing an asphalt surface with more durable and safer concrete.
McCarran will continue to use a parallel runway, designated as Runway 25L/7R, and the airport’s two north-south runways. But regardless of the availability of the three other runways, certain weather conditions could limit their use and result in flight delays.
Clark County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis is confident that would be a rarity, but confirmed it would be a possibility during high winds or storms.
Vassiliadis said the project is the last of four runway rehabilitations that will change asphalt surfaces to concrete.
“It’s always painful to have a runway down,” Vassiliadis said. “But by working with our airline partners and with the FAA’s Air Traffic Control Center we feel we have a plan that presents the least amount of impact and the greatest amount of success.”
About 75 percent of the project is being paid for by the federal government as a Federal Aviation Administration airport project and the first phase is fully funded. McCarran already has received $32 million in federal discretionary funds, including $26 million last month, for the work that will occur in the first phase.
The remaining $16.7 million in funding is being generated locally. Vassiliadis said it would come from the airport’s five-year capital improvement budget from sources that are not operationally driven. The county’s share won’t come from airline fees or food and beverage taxes, but from revenue from airport terminal slot machines and office leases.
The rehabilitation is a massive project, too large to complete in one six-month period.
The project is being split over two phases because cement pours are better in the cooler months. It’s also favorable to McCarran’s schedule because some international air carriers reduce their flights in the winter months due to reduced seasonal traffic demands.
International carriers are most likely to use Runway 25R/7L because their wide-body jumbo jets are heavier and need a longer runway to slow down when they land.
Large and heavy jets also need a longer runway more in the summer months because when it’s hot, jets need greater speed to create the lift necessary to get off the ground.
Over the life of the project, 250 jobs will be provided. The general contractor is Las Vegas Paving, the low bidder on the project, which also won the bids on the three previous runway rehabilitation projects. Vassiliadis said the company’s experience with the previous projects probably helped it in the bidding process.
The first phase of the project will cover close to two-thirds of the length of the runway, from the east end to a point just west of the airport access tunnel. The paving project also will include a portion of taxiways just north of the runway.
The logistics of doing the east end first are important because it covers the portion of the runway where most westbound jets touch down when they land.
One of the reasons concrete is favored over asphalt is that some of the rubber from an aircraft tire is knocked off when the plane lands and tends to blend into the asphalt in the heat.
McCarran has a machine that can lift the rubber out of the asphalt and smooth the surface — employees jokingly refer to it as a “runway Zamboni” — that makes for a safer landing surface.
It takes about four hours to smooth the entire surface of the long runway and maintenance usually occurs in the early-morning hours when there’s less traffic.
Contact Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.