Spare mountain makes a runway |

Spare mountain makes a runway

Kathy Heicher
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyMore than 2 million cubic yards of dirt is being moved to the airport to expand the runway, which will allow larger, fuller planes to use the airports.

EAGLE “A mountain is being moved to lengthen the runway at the Eagle County Airport by 1,000 feet.

Contractors with a brigade of giant earth scrapers are moving 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt across Cooley Mesa Road to create a platform for the extended runway.

All of that dirt moving is made possible by an unusual partnership between the county and a private landowner.

The scrapers are shoving dirt from 400 acres of private land and a 23-acre county property just across the road from the runway. The private property is the site of the proposed Saddleridge development ” a mixed-use project with a golf course, hotel, timeshare cabins, and 300,000 square feet of commercial space.

The Saddleridge developers needed to remove a massive quantity of dirt to shape the contours of their future golf course. The county needed approximately the same amount of dirt to extend the mesa under the runway.

Tom Buzbee, development manager for Saddleridge, says the timing was perfect. The dirt deal meant significant savings for the county and the developer.

“Think about it. There wasn’t 2.5 million yards of dirt anywhere else. You couldn’t have come up with a better arrangement no matter how hard you tried,” said Buzbee.

“It worked out pretty well,” says County Airport Terminal Manager Chris Anderson.

He said that if the county had been forced to haul in fill dirt from a more distant location, the cost would have likely been prohibitive.

The cost of trucking dirt in runs about $10-$15 per cubic yard, Project Engineer Josh Miller says.

Expanding the mesa under the airport isn’t a new concept. The county has been piling on the dirt for decades as the facility has expanded. This project will lengthen the runway to 9,000 feet from 8,000 feet.

Anderson says from the Federal Aviation Administration’s perspective, the runway extension is purely a safety project. The airport’s higher altitude means airplanes are operating in thinner air, which means there’s less lift for departing plans.

“You can bring in a fully loaded plane presently. The trick is to get a fully loaded plane off the ground,” Anderson says.

Rick Ollum, construction manager for Eagle County, says a longer runway means larger planes.

The runway extension will not increase traffic at the airport, but the planes will be able to carry more passengers, Ollum says.

That means more profit for the airlines and terminal businesses; and more visitors to the county. The longer runway will also make it possible for air carriers to schedule direct flights from Eagle to the East Coast, with a profitable load of passengers.

The work that stated last week is the second phase of a three-year project. Last summer, a brigade of scrapers worked six days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., moving 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt from the Saddleridge property, across Cooley Mesa Road to the airport.

This year, the schedule is less demanding, and only about a dozen scrapers are needed ” about half as many as last year.

The scrapers will move 800,000 cubic yards of dirt from the 23-acre county parcel just across the road, adding another 18-20 feet to the grade of the new runway.

Ollum says the newly-leveled county land could be used for accessory airport businesses.

The new runway will be paved next summer.

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