GOMACO World Index
GOMACO World 34.2 - October 2006

Superb Smoothness In North Dakota
Careful Mixing And Strategic Scheduling Result In A Successful Runway

This article, written by Jane Greer, originally appeared in Concrete Construction magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, is the largest commercial airport in the state, serving two commercial carriers, six fixed-base operators, air cargo, and a North Dakota Air National Guard base supporting F-16 fighter planes. Hector’s 2005 Runway 18-36 reconstruction was the largest runway project in North Dakota history.

Fargo, located in the Red River Valley, has fat clay soil that typically has a frost depth of five feet (1.5 m) or more in open areas and under pavement. Ulteig Engineers, Fargo, designed the reconstructed runway as a 17 inch thick (432 mm) plain concrete pavement resting on six inches (152 mm) of econocrete and eight inches (203 mm) of crushed concrete base. Econocrete is a low strength (750 to 1200 psi in 28 days) concrete mix that was used as a stabilized base.

The project requirements were a smooth, durable concrete runway, no loss of airport service, maintained safety, and completion in time to allow flight-checking of the instrument landing systems so the information could be published before Thanksgiving. If it hadn’t made the deadline, Hector International would not have had an instrument approach until mid-January and there would have been many unhappy holiday travelers.

A wet spring slowed construction and paving had to be shut down for a week because of cement shortages. In spite of these and other obstacles, Ulteig and Shafer Contracting Company, Shafer, Minnesota, exceeded the project expectations. The runway was opened to aircraft on time. There were no on-the-job injuries. Airport service was maintained, in fact, the passenger numbers for 2005 were greater than those for 2004. And the project earned close to maximum incentives for work quality.

Runway 18-36 is exceptionally smooth. “Three factors were key to achieving such smoothness,” said Ulteig aviation sector leader Steve Synhorst, “designing the mix to match the paver, mixing consistently, and keeping a constant head of concrete in front of the paver.”

Mix Design. Shafer worked with Midwest Testing Laboratories, Fargo, to develop an optimized aggregate gradation mix that used 1.5 inch (38 mm) aggregate and was compatible with Shafer’s paving equipment. The mix flowed through the paver efficiently, filled all voids, held a perfect vertical edge behind the paver, and earned 93 percent of the available bonus for strength and thickness.

Consistent mixing. Shafer implemented its own quality control plan in addition to Midwest Testing’s required independent quality control plan, and also built a portable concrete batch plant at the job site. This helped them make immediate adjustments, producing a more consistent mix. The plant was a Rex Model S double-drum that produced eight cubic yards (6.1 m3) per minute. To further ensure a consistent mix, Shafer used four bins for optimized mix production and used Shilstone aggregate blending techniques. The mix was so consistent that no edge slump boards were required at any time and bull floating behind the paver was minimal.

Nonstop paving. Shafer achieved virtually nonstop paving by placing a constant supply of consistently mixed and monitored concrete in front of the paver. This reduced stops in the paving operation, required less finishing, and produced a smoother finish. Most of the concrete and econocrete paving was done with a GOMACO slipform paver.

Strategic scheduling. Nonstop paving wasn’t Shafer’s only strategic scheduling practice. The contractor teaches its paving foremen, and requires them to use, the practices outlined in the IPRF’s Best Practices for Airport Portland Cement Concrete Pavement Construction. Strategic scheduling was an important factor in achieving maximum pavement smoothness.

Placement of the in-pavement light cans was nearly 100 percent accurate as a result of strategically scheduled paving. The centerline light cans were in the fourth paving lane, two feet (0.6 m) off the third paving lane. Shafer paved the third paving lane first to allow the maximum amount of time to set and align the cans to match grade.

Strategic scheduling made maturity monitoring unnecessary. The Federal Aviation Administration usually doesn’t approve maturity monitoring for runway pavement, but they allowed it for the Hector project in order to accelerate the paving schedule. But as it turned out, Shafer didn’t need to use maturity monitoring because the strategic paving schedule gave pavements time to reach full strength before being put into service.

Measuring smoothness. The project’s smoothness specification include the following:

• No surface deviations in excess of .25 inch (6 mm) when tested with a 16 foot (4.9 m) straightedge placed in any direction.
• Deviations between 0.5 and 0.25 inch (12 and 6 mm) are to be corrected by grinding. Before grinding, the pavement is subjected to an aircraft ride analysis to determine the severity of the deviation.
• The Air Force has smoothness criteria for the runway 200 feet (61 m) before and after each aircraft-arresting barrier: the pavement is subject to a special tolerance of no deviation in excess of 0.125 inch (3 mm) when tested with a 12 foot (3.7 m) straightedge placed longitudinally every five feet (1.5 m) across the runway. This special tolerance ensures that the tailhook of an aircraft won’t bounce before engaging with the cable.

Although the specifications were rigorous, the contractor was not required to perform any corrective measures, such as grinding, on the finished runway. The smoothness was measured in a number of ways.

• APR Consultants, Medway, Ohio, evaluated the pavement smoothness with an AutoRod and level. Five profiles were measured over the length of the runway: at the centerline and at 12 feet (3.7 m) and 25 feet (7.6 m) left and right. Data was converted to the 16 foot (4.9 m) straightedge analysis required by the FAA. Only about three percent of the pavement was out of tolerance. These areas passed the aircraft ride analysis simulation.
• A straightedge sweep analysis compared the five profiles with a known smooth runway and a known rough runway. All five profiles plotted just slightly above the smooth runway profile.
• Ulteig performed takeoff and landing simulations with the profile data to measure roughness and determine vertical accelerations. The point at which discomfort is felt was considered to be 0.4 g, and nearly all sections fell within acceptable limits. The only area outside the limits was the intersection of Runways 18-36 and 9-27. This intersection was not included in the reconstruction project because it needed to remain open and had been reconstructed in 1994.

“Ulteig envisioned what it would take to achieve maximum smoothness and durability on this project. Shafer Contracting made it a reality by embracing best practices,” said Ulteig’s Synhorst. “This was a partnership of the very best kind.”

The Runway 18-36 project was recognized as the nation’s best Commercial Service and Military Airport for 2005 by the American Concrete Pavement Association.

— This article also appears courtesy of Odney Advertising, Bismark, North Dakota, who works with Ulteig Engineers. Ulteig provides engineering and land surveying for cities, utilities, highways, airports, and water and wastewater projects.


Concrete Specification
Flexural strength at 28 days (psi)
650 min.
Maximum water-cement ratio
Minimum cementitious content (lb/yd3)
Size of coarse aggregate
1 in. max
Slump (in.)
.5 to 1.5
Air content (%)
Type I/KK Portland, ASTM C 150

Select Any Photo For A Close-Up

The mix was so consistent that no edge slump boards were required and bull-floating behind the paver was minimal.

Strategic scheduling allowed the contractor to achieve virtually nonstop paving operations. Runway 18-36 reconstruction was the largest runway project in North Dakota history.



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