Five years after the planning began, the Quad-City International Airport christened its $34 million runway rehabilitation project Thursday.
Under sunny skies and with planes landing and taking off on a temporary runway nearby, more than 100 people gathered for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
"We are on the bull's-eye," aviation director Bruce Carter told the crowd of dignitaries, business and community leaders and airport staff.
The bull's-eye - the location where the airport's three main runways intersect - has been the focus of the four-year reconstruction project.
For the past three construction seasons, the airport has been a hotbed of construction activity as crews did the necessary earthwork, built a temporary runway and then completed the major work of reconstructing the airport's main runway, 9/27. For the past five months, the airport's three main runways were closed to air traffic, and only temporary runway 10/28 was in use.
Susan Shea, the director of aeronautics for the state of Illinois, said it was the deteriorating condition of the bull's-eye that helped land federal funding for the project. She said previous ground boring tests showed that beneath the surface, the concrete "was like baby powder."
"If this had not been repaired, it could have shut down the airport," said Shea, who helped the airport lobby for funding in Washington, D.C., in 2007. "We all worked together on this one. Aviation is a family."
She applauded the efforts of the bi-state congressional delegations, the area's mayors and other elected leaders and the Federal Aviation Administration for bringing the project to fruition. "I'm proud to say, on behalf of Gov. (Pat) Quinn, let's open that runway."
The runway will not be back in operation until the morning of Oct. 14. The large contingent of guests got a chance to caravan in two Metro buses and other airport vehicles for a single lap on the new runway.
"We've probably got the nicest runway in the United States right now," Carter told reporters.
Tara Barney, president and chief operating officer of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, said the runway project is an important milestone for the region.
"We just had a meeting of many of the area's senior business leaders," she said. "Keeping infrastructure fresh and new was a big part of that conversation. This is just what we need."
Shea, who began her aeronautics career 20 years ago in Springfield, Ill., where Carter then was airport director, said the Quad-City rehabilitation project is one of the state's three largest. The largest, she said, is the modernization project at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, followed by a new terminal in Peoria. "But we call this the Quad-Cities modernization project. It was the most critical one."
According to Carter, rehabilitation of Runway 9/27 involved 47,000 cubic yards of new concrete. In addition, 25-foot-wide asphalt shoulders were added to both sides as a safety enhancement.
"Hundreds of jobs were created in the fields of concrete, asphalt, earthwork, electrical and trucking," he said.
That portion of the runway had not been replaced since 1976.
"We were at the end of its life. This will take it into the next 30 years," Carter said applauding the efforts of Quad-City engineering firm Missman-Stanley; the prime contractor, Concrete Structures, out of West Chicago; and two key subcontractors, Davenport Electric Co. and Fisher Inc.
He said the fourth, and final, phase of construction will be completed next year when crews convert the temporary runway into a taxiway, which will be called Taxiway P "Papa."
Although the main purpose of the taxiway will be to lead airplanes to and from the runways, Shea said the FAA has given the airport approval to use it as a runway in case of an emergency.