The Expansion Story
The Lambert-St. Louis International Airport® Expansion Program was the result of a more than 20-year process to address airfield capacity limitations. More than 30 expansion alternatives were studied in the 1990s, analyzed for their impact on Airport operations and surrounding communities. The new-runway phase of the expansion was born Sept. 30, 1998, when the Federal Aviation Administration officially endorsed the Airport’s final plans when it issued a “Record of Decision” (ROD). The focus of the resulting Airport Expansion Program (AEP) was to build a third runway, parallel to Lambert’s existing two major runways.
Design work began late in 1999. Construction broke ground in July 2001, with the goal of completing the work by late spring 2006. The AEP was substantially completed in April 2006 and within its $1.059 billion budget.
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Noting that the AEP was the largest capital improvements project in St. Louis, officials of Lambert Airport and the City of St. Louis (the City owns Lambert) decided to use the project to grow the design and construction industry in the St. Louis area. They created an Expansion Program Management Office consisting of the Airport Planning and Development Office, Unison-Maximus, O.R. Colan and the SPK Joint Venture to manage the AEP.
The Airport’s and City’s goals to develop the regional design and construction industry resulted in the overall AEP being broken into 14 design projects, 16 major construction projects, and about 85 demolition projects. This led to the involvement of more than 550 different organizations and an estimate of nearly 14,000 individual jobs. The goal of the Expansion Team was to coordinate these organizations and individuals – and their thousands of corresponding tasks – to complete a program the size of which the St. Louis area had never seen.
The general construction approach was to, first, relocate several major roadways, so that, second, the runway itself could be built. This entailed relocating Lindbergh Boulevard and Natural Bridge Road while they were being used by the traveling public who lived in and around the AEP area and North St. Louis County. To minimize inconvenience to the traveling public, a series of temporary roadway bypasses were built, used and then dismantled.
Adding to the complexity was the need to remove and cap off a utility infrastructure designed for 1,900 residences and 80 businesses and replace it with an infrastructure to supply the unique and exacting needs of a major airfield. The AEP area also included a major utility corridor feeding much of North St. Louis County, which had to remain intact 24/7 throughout the five-year construction phase. Because land acquisition proceeded in a piecemeal fashion to meet residents’ and AEP needs, intricate utility cut offs were needed to preserve service to surrounding residents and businesses while allowing construction to move ahead with building a new utility infrastructure.
Runways are generally flat, but the area in which Lambert’s new runway was built was not flat. Excavation planners determined that 13.5 million cubic yards of soil were needed to be moved, which necessitated an entire storm water runoff plan be developed and executed in conjunction with regulatory authorities. A ridge originally ran perpendicular to the runway alignment cutting across the site, while the terrain fell off into a valley to the west of the ridge. Moreover, the new location of Lindbergh Boulevard was up to 70 feet below the original grade, and it was located adjacent to the ridge.
The project was planned to be “soil balanced,” thus no soil was removed from, or brought to, the site; it was moved from one area to another. As a result, cuts of up to 90 feet were made, while fills reached 90 feet in depth. Because of the exacting requirements for runway safety, the fill area was designed to “settle” no more than 1½ inches over the 30 years following completion of construction. The massive excavation work had to thus be executed so the platform on which the runway was to be built could be created and settle for up to 12 months before the runway itself could be built. This meant excavation went year-round, even in winter months when precipitation was unfriendly.
Two of the AEP’s infrastructure deliverables were regional milestones: the Lindbergh Boulevard tunnel and new Runway 11-29. The Lindbergh tunnel was the first traffic tunnel in the State of Missouri and was the solution to the problem of building the runway across Lindbergh Boulevard. The tunnel represented the state-of-the-art in design in the United States. That a high-security airfield ran across the top of the tunnel added to its complexity. Runway 11-29 was the first new runway at Lambert in 50 years. Its construction – as well as virtually all AEP construction – was carried out immediately adjacent to an active, major airport. This required close coordination and planning not only among the AEP and the 550 companies and organizations involved, but with the Federal Aviation Administration, Lambert Security and the Transportation Safety Administration.
Against this backdrop, the Expansion Team and Lambert Airport dealt with an aviation industry that underwent profound and unprecedented upheavals in the first half of the decade. Industry-driven changes in the Airport’s hub air carriers, an economic downturn, and the tragedies of 9/11 brought historic changes to Lambert Airport that impacted the AEP. Aviation-industry changes required AEP planners to re-examine the Program in mid-stream in order for the Expansion to meet its obligations to the traveling public, airlines and surrounding communities. AEP managers adjusted the Program, resulting in the AEP delivering on its commitments.
Despite the AEP being bigger than the next two largest construction projects going on in St. Louis combined, the AEP’s inherent nature meant it was not readily visible from ground level. Passengers flying in and out of Lambert Airport over the next number of decades, however, will see firsthand, and benefit from, the work accomplished in the AEP between the years of 1998 and 2006.