By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
Problems during a multimillion-dollar repaving project at Paine Field last summer cost time and money as crews ground up flawed sections of asphalt to do the job over again.
Nearly a year later, Snohomish County has reached a settlement with the contractor, putting to rest fears that those glitches would put taxpayers, or the contractor, on the hook for extra expense. The deal with Granite Construction of Watsonville, Calif., also allows the county to finish extra paving work this summer at a greatly reduced cost.
“The best thing is we didn’t have to pay any lawyers,” county airports Director Dave Waggoner said. “We decided right from the start we wanted to work together, and it came to a good end.”
All told, the work cost about $16 million, plus another $3 million in engineering and testing. Most of it was covered by federal grants.
Last year’s work involved large portions of the airport’s 9,010-foot main runway, a parallel taxiway and small taxiways between the two. The runway was last repaved in 1996. The taxiway was last repaved more than 25 years ago.
The airport has three runways. The Boeing Co. uses the main one for its jets. Keeping the main runway in top shape is crucial to providing Boeing with good customer service, Waggoner said, especially as Snohomish County vies with other regions for aerospace jobs.
“We’re competing with Charleston (S.C.) right now and if our runway isn’t operating, we’re not competing very well,” Waggoner said.
This month’s settlement with Granite Construction was the result of six months of meetings and relieves both sides of legal claims.
As part of the agreement, the county will pay the contractor about $696,000 to finish paving a new airport taxiway. That’s less than half of the work’s estimated $1.5 million value. The work was not included in last year’s contract.
When completed, the new taxiway will allow jets to make a direct turn onto the Boeing ramp, where jets await delivery. It eliminates the need for extra maneuvers that slow down planes and can tie up the runway.
The agreement also keeps the county on good terms with a contractor that has taken on some of its biggest infrastructure projects, including the Granite Falls alternate route and the state project to replace the Highway 529 bridge over Ebey Slough.
“We look forward to a long working relationship with the county,” said Granite’s regional manager, Tom Zamzow.
Granite was the low bidder for the paving work at the airport and airport officials said the company has a good track record with airport jobs, which must meet a higher standard than typical road projects.
Asphalt on the runway is 21 inches deep and must bear the weight of a Boeing 747-8, which can weigh up to a million pounds. A heavily loaded 747 might be traveling 160 to 170 mph when it takes off or lands.
Though they ironed out contract issues, the county and the company failed to resolve another question: What exactly went wrong?
When the original paving was completed in August of last year, project managers realized something wasn’t right with the runway asphalt. The pavement never fully hardened and remained pliable, Waggoner said. Crews had to tear it up and repave. The delay caused the airport to shut down for an extra three days beyond what had been scheduled.
Independent testing found that the asphalt met Federal Aviation Administration standards, though there was clearly something wrong.
They didn’t find any “smoking guns or anything,” Waggoner said. “Nobody knows why the asphalt didn’t behave like it was supposed to.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.