The $32 million project has involved demolition, regrading and complete reconstruction of the nearly 2-mile long, 150-foot wide runway, which included replacement and reconfiguration of two taxiway systems.
Built in 1963 during the propeller age, the runway spent the last 20 years handling the majority of the airport’s commercial jet air traffic. The airport’s north-south runway has served as primary runway since the start of reconstruction in late February.
The project would have required a two- to three-year construction schedule based on the traditional financing schemes available to the airport, Aeronautics Director James Koslosky said.
But because of concerns raised by residents around the airport, the Kent County Board of Aeronautics decided on a compressed nine-month construction schedule with longer daily workdays and penalties for delays beyond the November deadline.
Mark McClardy, acting planning and programming branch manager of the Federal Aviation Administration’s regional office in Chicago, lauded airport officials’ “good neighbor” efforts to reduce noise exposure to residents by expediting the construction schedule.
He added that the accelerated construction schedule also saved more than $4 million over traditional funding scenarios.
The board of aeronautics worked for nearly five years to secure $31.5 million in airport improvement discretionary funds from the FAA toward the project. Congressmen Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, a member of the House Aviation subcommittee, led the effort.
“Financing for airports comes from various sources and by getting a federal commitment, the airport didn’t have to raise its fees; it was able to maintain a lot of the fees it had,” McClardy said. “That, in essence, helps keep it competitive, attract new users and maintain existing users.”
McClardy also said airports like Ford International are very important to the national aviation system because they feed into the hub airports, where most of the problems are concentrated.
“I’m proud to say this airport is doing a fine job of helping to do its part to relieve some of the national problems we’ve had,” he said.
With the runway completion, Ford International caps 10 years’ worth of improvements totaling more than $250 million, Aeronautics Board Chairman John Van Laar pointed out.
In 1998, the airport completed construction on the 8,500-foot north-south runway. If not for the addition of that runway, reconstruction of the east-west runway would have halted all air service to and from Grand Rapids for nearly a year, forcing passengers to drive to airports in other cities and suspending airfreight operations.
Other major capital improvements have included the lengthening of the north parallel runway, expansion of parking facilities, construction of a 160,000-square-foot Air Cargo and Trade Center, construction of a new maintenance building and complete renovation of the passenger terminal building.
“The bottom line is we have built a new airport on site in this period of time,” Koslosky said. “This is a brand new airport — state of the art — with plenty of capacity long term to meet West Michigan’s requirements.”