The long-awaited reconstruction of the runway at Offutt Air Force Base has been pushed back 10 months and will cost $46 million more than earlier estimates, say officials from the Air Force’s 55th Wing.
The project had been scheduled to begin in December but is now being pushed back to October 2020, with completion one year later. And the cost of the project, estimated at $130 million when it was announced in January, has now jumped to $176 million, said Col. Alan Dayton, who heads Offutt’s 55th Mission Support Group.
Dayton told The World-Herald that the 35% price increase is mostly due to extra elements that have been added to the project. For example, he said, reconstruction of the apron near the south end of the runway and the “hammerhead” turnaround area at the north end have been added at a combined cost of $26.5 million.
The rebuilt runway will have concrete touchdown areas, while the center line and shoulders will be made of asphalt. It will also be narrowed from its original width, and new lighting will be installed.
“It’s more than a full replacement,” Dayton said.
The money is slated to come from the Air Force’s “operations and maintenance” budget.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
The 10-month delay, Dayton said, will better align construction work around Nebraska’s climate. The revised schedule will allow demolition and earth-moving to occur before snow falls and the ground freezes. Asphalt and concrete work can take place during milder spring and summer weather, which he said will allow the new pavement to last longer.
“It comes down to construction cycles,” Dayton said. “What we’re going to do is get it right, so this runway can last 30, 40 years.”
While construction is underway, Offutt’s flight operations are slated to move to the Lincoln Airport, including 29 C-135-variant reconnaissance jets, four E-4B Nightwatch airborne command post planes, and a Navy E-6B Mercury, which can provide backup communications in case of a nuclear catastrophe.
During the reconstruction project, about 800 workers a day will be bused from Sarpy County to Lincoln, about 50 miles away. The Air Force has budgeted $11.5 million for transportation and lodging, up from an estimated $10 million last January.
To accommodate them, a hangar and adjacent apron space on the west side of Lincoln Airport are being remodeled. That work began in April. The Air Force has also decided to build a second temporary hangar and a fuel cell in Lincoln. That pushed up the cost of temporary quarters to $32 million, $12 million more than was estimated in January.
“One of our driving factors is to protect the airmen here at Offutt from being gone longer than 12 months,” Rob Hufford, lead engineer for the 55th Wing’s project management office, said in an article on the wing’s website. “We know it’s going to stink to have to go back and forth from Lincoln on a daily basis, so that’s why we’re trying to limit the displacement that occurs.”
The project is the most extensive renovation of Offutt’s single runway since it was built in 1941 as part of the construction of the Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant, which produced about 2,000 aircraft during World War II. It was extended to its current length of 11,700 feet in the mid-1950s.
In spite of major runway renovations in 1983, 1995 and 2006, much of the original concrete still remains. More than half of the runway is at least 40 years old.
The Air Force’s concerns about the deteriorating runway became public in 2015, when engineers said it was in the worst condition of any runway at the 18 bases falling under the Virginia-based Air Combat Command. State and local elected officials strongly supported efforts by Nebraska’s congressional representatives to secure funds for runway reconstruction.
“The Nebraska congressional delegation worked closely with the Air Force to get to this point,” U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, former commander of the 55th Wing, said in a statement. “The advocacy really paid off.”
1 of 27
Offutt Air Force Base is named for Lt. Jarvis Offutt — the first airman from Omaha killed in World War I.
1891: The area now known as Offutt Air Force Base was first commissioned as Fort Crook, an Army post to house cavalry soldiers and their horses. This photo, circa 1905, shows mounted officers and infantry troops assembling on the parade ground. The officers' quarters in the background still stand today, but the closing of Offutt's stables in 2010 ended the base's equine tradition.
1946: The World's Fair of Aviation was held at Offutt Air Force Base, including a race between a 1912 airplane and 1912 automobile. The 1912 airplane easily won, but provided sharp contrast to the sleek, modern "600-mile-per-hour aircraft" on display at the fair.
1952: Painter Frank Anania places the final bolt in the SAC emblem, newly placed on the command building at Strategic Air Command headquarters. After the command was created in 1946, SAC headquarters were moved from Andrews Field, Maryland to Offutt Air Force Base. SAC's high-flying reconnaissance planes and bombers would go on to play a global role from the onset of the Cold War through the last bomb of the Persian Gulf War.
1956: The Strategic Air Command "nerve center" gets a new headquarters building at Offutt Air Force Base.
1957: Even since the late 1950s, Strategic Air Command has been holding open house events at Offutt Air Force Base to display and demonstrate aircraft for civilian visitors. Each year, the open house and air show at Offutt features aerial acts or reenactments, static displays, and booths showcasing military history and capabilities.
1959: The first SAC museum consisted of a section of abandoned runway near the north edge of Offutt Air Force Base outside of Bellevue. However, the outdoor display left the aircraft vulnerable to the elements.
1961: A Royal Air Force bomber crashes at Offutt Air Force Base. Beginning in the late 1950s, the RAF maintained small detachment and service facility for Vulcan bomber planes at Offutt, often participating in defense exercises and demonstrations at the base until their retirement and deactivation in 1982. This plane crashed at take-off at the northwest end of the main runway and then slid across Highway 73-75. All seven passengers survived.
1962: Just weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy visits Offutt Air Force Base, accompanied by Gen. Thomas Power of Strategic Air Command, right.
1962: Actor Rock Hudson receives a B-52 bomber briefing during a visit to Omaha and Offutt Air Force Base. He began filming "A Gathering of Eagles" in May of that year.
1970: The world's largest aircraft at that time, the C5 Galaxy was displayed as part of the open house for civilian visitors at Offutt Air Force Base.
1989: A conference room in the SAC underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base. Strategic Air Command would be formally disestablished in 1992, but Offutt would remain the headquarters for the new United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).
1992: The Strategic Air Command Memorial Chapel holds a Sunday morning service as a reminder of those who have given their service and those who have died during the Command's 46-year history. Founded in in 1946, the command was dissolved in a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base.
1997: OPPD worker Craig Azure of Ashland holds a power line up across Platteview Road near Highway 50 so that an Albatross airplane can fit under it. After SAC was dissolved, the museum moved into a new indoor facility in 1998. Airplanes were moved from their old location at Offutt Air Force Base to their new and current home near Mahoney State Park off I-80.
2000: The parade grounds gazebo at Offutt is dedicated in honor of Airman 1st Class Warren T. Willis, who was killed in an aircraft accident the previous December.
2000: President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally at Offutt Air Force Base.
2003: More than 300 anti-nuclear protesters gather outside Kinney Gate at Offutt Air Force Base. The rally was part of a weekend of protest against nuclear weapons, and was organized in response to an extensive nuclear arsenal review being held at the base.
2006: Vice President Dick Cheney greets service men and women following a speech at Offutt Air Force Base's Minuteman missile in Bellevue.
2012: Dignitaries clap along to an armed forces medley as ground is broken for the new U. S. Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. From left: Neb. Rep. Adrian Smith, Rep. Lee Terry, Neb. Governor Dave Heineman, General C. Robert Kehler, Commander USStratcom, Sen. Ben Nelson, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and Mayor of Bellevue, Rita Sanders.
2012: Chris Shotton created this thank you message to the airmen and troops flying in and out of Offutt Air Force Base. Employees of area Walmart stores have been writing giant messages in fields near Highway 370 for years.
1967: An early photograph of the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic in Bellevue. The clinic has served Offutt Air Force Base since 1966 and was remodeled in 2013, including a grand staircase, larger physical therapy and mental health areas, and a more private mammography waiting area.
2013: Senior Airman Kevin Chapman works the desk at the new Public Health Clinic located in the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic.
2014: The new MERLIN SS200m Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar System, with the control tower in the background, photographed at Offutt Air Force Base. The system was moved here from Afghanistan in order to help detect large flocks and prevent damages to aircraft from bids, which cost the Air Force millions of dollars each year.
2015: An aerial photo from late February of the construction site for StratCom's new $1.2 billion headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. Despite numerous delays and setbacks, the building would be completed in 2018, six years after construction began. StratCom would then spend the next year outfitting the structure with more than $600 million worth of high-tech communications and security gear.
2016: President Barack Obama arrives in Omaha after landing at Offutt Air Force Base. While in Omaha, Obama met with the family of Kerrie Orozco, visited a local teacher, and addressed a crowd of about 8,000 at Baxter Arena.
2019: This year, U.S. Strategic Command unveiled a new Command and Control Facility located at Offutt Air Force Base. The "battle deck," shown here, features computer workstations, soundproofing, and the ability to connect instantly to the White House and Pentagon.
Luke Thomas and Air Force Tech Sgt. Vanessa Vidaurre at a flooded portion of Offutt Air Force Base. In March, historic flooding included breaches of two levees protecting the base from the Missouri River.