Grant County International Airport (KMWH), owned by the Port of Moses Lake (Port), is critical to commercial, military, and fire suppression operations in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. KMWH serves as a flight test facility for both civilian and military aircraft, from widebody jets to single engine airplanes. The airport also serves the Armed Forces. The large airfield, Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) services, and uncluttered airspace enable flight training, pilot currency, and successful domestic and international military exercises. The airfield hosts a U.S. Forest Service Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) base. In addition, local producers ship 747s full of Central Washington State cherries to Asia in the summertime.
KMWH has five runways but is best known for its main runway—14L/32R—which is 13,503-feet-by-200-feet, making it one of the largest in the United States. Historically, Runway 14L/32R had a “hump” in the northern half of the runway, approximately 4,400 feet in length. This made it impossible for aircraft at either end of the runway to see each other, requiring the runway to be closed at night when the ATCT closed. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changed its Line-of-Sight (LOS) criteria in 2014, this non-standard condition became eligible for reconstruction.
When the Port selected Century West Engineering Corporation (Century West) as their airport engineering consultant in 2016, reconstructing the runway was one of the Port’s most pressing concerns. Century West assisted the Port in obtaining funding for the Runway 14L/32R LOS Improvements project and supported the project through all phases including planning, environmental, engineering, final design, and construction.
The construction schedule was constrained by multiple factors. Moses Lake winters are cold and summers are hot, both affecting the type of work that can occur and when. The U.S. Forest Service tanker base is active June through September. Cherries start being shipped to Asia around the third week of June. The Moses Lake Airshow is scheduled for Fathers’ Day weekend. With these constraints in mind, it was imperative to start immediately when project funding came through in 2019 so that construction would be completed by early June 2020.
Century West completed the complex design in a four-month window to allow for the first phase of construction to start in the fall when the FAA funding would be available. Risks to the delivery were identified by the project team. Contractors were engaged early by means of an advertised meeting to share information about the project, discuss potential challenges, and solicit input from the bidding community to sharpen Century West’s design approach.
Closing a primary runway is no small feat at any airport, and KMWH’s airfield geometry required careful consideration. With input from the Port, Century West created a plan that pushed most traffic to the crosswind runway and ensured taxi routes remained available at the north and south ends of the project to allow tenants and users to circulate.
To meet the aggressive construction schedule, an early phase of the project shut down Runway 14L/32R in November and December of 2019. Major construction took place January through June. Provisions were applied during construction to mitigate many of the concerns that arose during design development. Contingency planning covered winter weather, wildlife issues, and wildfire suppression activities. While Century West is pleased that few unanticipated design issues arose during construction, even the best laid plans could not account for everything. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required everyone to adjust to new safety guidelines. The project was considered essential and Granite Construction Company (Granite) was quick to implement across-the-board measures to keep crews and subcontractors protected.
In the final week of the project, pavement quality issues caused a slight delay in re-opening the runway. Century West’s on-site construction management and quality assurance team members quickly spotted the issue so that it could be corrected by the contractor. Century West’s efforts ensured that KMWH received quality materials consistent with the operational needs of the airport, and substantial completion was reached prior to mission-critical dates.
Thanks to careful planning and strong communication between the Port, Century West, and Granite, Runway 14L/32R reopened on June 15, 2020. Large aircraft have already returned and the airport is ready for cherry cargo flights and fire suppression activities to commence. In addition to much improved sight distance along the runway, runway edge lighting was upgraded with new LED fixtures and signage, which, in addition to increasing runway safety, will save energy and reduce maintenance on the new electrical system components.
We at Century West are incredibly honored to have spearheaded this project and are gratified by the positive impacts already being seen at KMWH. We would like to thank the Port for their hard work and commitment to the positive outcome on this project. The best project outcomes are the result of a true partnership between the client and consultant, and that could not be more true than on this project.
“A project of this magnitude could never had gone so well without Century West’s steady hand at the tiller throughout.”– Rich Mueller, Airport Director