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.
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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.”
Neither the delay nor the added construction costs are connected to the catastrophic flooding in March that left about one-third of Offutt (and one-fourth of the runway) underwater, he said. At least 40 buildings were also wrecked by the floodwaters. Cleanup and repair costs are expected to top $650 million.
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.”