County approves emergency spending of $375K to seal crumbling taxiway at Johnson County Executive Airport

A stretch of brutal winter weather has wreaked havoc on a taxiway at the Johnson County Executive Airport. File photo credit Kansas Department of Transportation.

No doubt about it, February has been murder on all types of paved surfaces. And none more so than the runways at Johnson County Executive Airport, where the harsh weather has caused a crumbling “concrete cancer” that has made one taxiway too dangerous to use.

County Commissioners approved emergency spending of $375,000 out of the airport’s reserves Thursday to quickly seal up the surface of Taxiway Alpha. Not doing so could result in the entire airport eventually being shut down, said Larry Peet, deputy director of the airport commission.

A file photo of one of the taxiway connections from a 2013 report prepared for the department of transportation.
The asphalt resurfacing of the 4,000-foot taxiway is necessary because of cracking and crumbling, especially along the expansion joints, Peet said. While the damage may not seem as dramatic as some of the potholes around town, it’s no less dangerous because jet engines tend to suck up the crumbles and fire them back at other planes.

Normally, the Federal Aviation Administration might pay a big part of repairs like this. That the county is spending so much of airport reserves on the project is the result of some unfortunate timing.

The county already has arranged for work to begin on a total repaving of its central runway in April. The runway is about 20 years old and nearing the end of its life expectancy, Peet said.

Before construction begins, some markings and lights will be changed on the other taxiway, named Bravo, so it can become the main runway during the construction. The total project will cost about $5.5 million, with 90 percent paid by the FAA.

That leaves only Taxiway Alpha for pre- and post-takeoff. Without the repairs, there would be no place to taxi and the airport couldn’t continue to operate, he said.

The quick fix will be about a two-inch coating of asphalt that should last until the other repairs are done. But it won’t be a long-term solution. The concrete will still be degrading from the inside, Peet said. When it becomes Alpha’s turn for repaving, it may still cost in the neighborhood of $3.8 million, despite the repair.

Some commissioners were reluctant to put so much money into the stopgap repair when Taxiway Alpha is itself due for repaving in 2022 that would be partially paid by the FAA. Commissioner Steve Klika wondered why the FAA money couldn’t be transferred from the April projects to take care of Alpha now. He also asked whether the county could take care of the bad section of taxiway now and reduce the cost of the 2022 repair.

But Peet said FAA officials were contacted and even visited the airport but told him they couldn’t free up any cash for the emergency repair. Contracts on the April runway repaving have already been signed, he said. And the crumbling problem is continuous along the taxiway, not concentrated in a particular area.

The emergency repaving won’t have an impact on property taxes, since the airport is funded through user fees.

The Executive Airport serves about 39,000 planes a year.