Machine Control Speeds Runway Expansion

By Matthew Phair | September 28, 2010

February of 1956 was a momentous time for flight in Jamestown. Lucille Ball, the town's most-famous daughter, and husband Desi Arnaz arrived by Bell Aircraft helicopter for the world premier of "Forever Darling" at Dipson's Palace Theater in downtown Jamestown.

Also famous for once being the Furniture Capital of the World, Jamestown's current claim to fame is being host to the Lucy Museum and to the Babe Ruth World Series of Little League.

And while movie stars and future major leaguers may get most of the attention, the newest star is town is UCC Constructors and the project they're executing at the local airport.

Per Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the Chautauqua County/Jamestown Airport is expanding its key runway safety areas. The $12-million Runway Safety Area expansion project includes both ends of the primary runway, plus the construction of a 510-foot-long, two-lane tunnel under the expanded safety area.

On the 788-acre facility, West Seneca-based general contractor UCC's main task was completing a massive earthwork and paving project. With a grade at one end of the runway that was especially low, in round numbers the contractor had to move about 30,000 yards of excavation, plus truck in another 70,000 yards of fill.

"We actually had to build a hill," says Chief Surveyor Greg Maziarz.

Bidding and winning the job on a one-year deadline, UCC received a surprise three-month move-up of its deadline to nine months, after being informed that the FAA needed the time to test the newly installed airfield electronics prior to having the project complete.

In addition to working double shifts, UCC turned for help to GPS and machine control technology. After evaluating the major offerings available, UCC selected Rochester-based Admar Supply for productivity help. UCC chose to fit its equipment with Topcon GPS and machine control technology. At its peak this summer, the project had at least seven Caterpillar and Komatsu dozers working on the project.

Another stumbling block that UCC overcame was acquiring the machine control data itself. Contracts prevented UCC from receiving the digital files directly from the engineer. But because of the extreme productivity advantages of using the technology, UCC instead took the time to recreate the 3-D files from the engineer's certified 2-D drawings.

Technology Advocate

Maziarz is a big fan of implementing technology on projects, including being on several industry committees that focus on the evolution of technology. One is the NYSDOT Emerging Technologies committee, which attempts to fosters open lines of communication amongst industry partners.

One issue that the committee has recently dealt with is the topic of liability, which Maziarz and others believe is a big hindrance to more widespread sharing of digital data and implementation of the technology.

To counter it, Marziarz is in favor of having the contractor take full liability for the project. "We have to go in it saying, 'you give us all the information you can.' We, as the contractor, are going to do our checks. So give us the information so we can build what you are thinking, especially on a dirt work project."

So far, the surveyor has done three projects with DOT, who was open to using the technology and open to sharing the digital design data.

"They've worked out perfectly. We used all the information right out of their computer."

Other site work

At its peak this past summer, while the tunnels were being assembled, nearly 120 skilled workers were on the project. To assemble the tunnels, UCC first constructed stem walls. The walls were topped with three-sided boxes, followed by fill over the top of that. Placing the boxes took two weeks, two a day, 42 pieces to the tunnel.

While filling and grading were completed in September, updating all the radar, localizers and all the electronics is on target to be wrapped up by the end of the year.

And the safety can't come too soon. In early January, Msgr. Antoine P. Attea, pastor of St. James Parish in Jamestown and Our Lady of Victory Parish in Frewsburg, was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport.