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Short Shelf Life Of Airport Runways Puts Repairs, Reconstruction At High Priority

ROMULUS, Mich. (WWJ/AP) - The $225 million runway that opened in 2001 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is deteriorating well ahead of its expected life of 30 years because of a common problem with concrete used in recent years, authorities say.

Airport crews have been making frequent repairs to the cracks and other flaws in the concrete, airport spokesman Mike Conway told the Detroit Free Press for a story Sunday.

Conway says potential danger involves debris getting stuck in jet engines, but: "We don't allow that to happen - our runways and taxi-ways are inspected the full length every shift so three times a day we have a vehicle that shoots up and down the runway looking for any kind of debris. We're out there repairing a lot just to make sure that we have a smooth surface and nothing loose floating around out there."

The airport is beginning to develop plans to reconstruct the runway and is applying for a federal grant to partially fund it. The cost is expected to be far less than the original cost of building the runway, said Jeffrey Warkoski, a consultant on the project. He said similar repairs at Denver International Airport have cost $10 million to $30 million per runway.

The Detroit airport runway is affected by a process called alkali/silica reaction, or ASR. It causes concrete to expand and crack when exposed to moisture over time.

"(ASR) continues to have a reaction which causes expansion and exerts pressure on the concrete which typically results in like spider-web type cracking at the surface," explained Conway.

Conway tells WWJ they've applied for a federal grant to help fund the repair:

"The money that comes to airports to build control towers, to build runways, typically comes from the Aviation Trust Fund, which is funded by a tax on airline tickets."

ASR also has affected roads in the state. A study in 2006 by the Michigan Concrete Paving Association found ASR in all 23 core samples taken from 12 roads in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in southeastern Michigan. The study said there are "issues of concrete durability have arisen with some of the pavements built after 1990."

The Michigan Department of Transportation says that certain changes in concrete making in recent years have increased concrete's alkalinity, making it more vulnerable to deterioration.

"The cement manufacturing industry has increasingly been under pressure to reduce their levels of harmful emissions into the atmosphere," said department spokesman Jeff Cranson. "This prompted them to modify their manufacturing process to incorporate a portion of the highly alkaline cement kiln dust back into their final product."

A spokesman said the concrete industry is aware of the problem.

"We have some projects ... that are not performing like they're supposed to do," said Daniel DeGraaf, executive director and chief executive officer of the Michigan Concrete Association. "It's not our proudest moment."


TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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