Mountain Empire Airport

W-L Construction & Paving Wins 2019 Inaugural Golden Lute Award

Ever wonder who is the best? In the movie classic Top Gun, Tom Skerritt’s character Viper asked that question to a fresh group of fighter pilots at the Top Gun school. Maverick, the character played by Tom Cruise, answered the question that he was the best. While he may have been a little arrogant, he was also confident.

Since the mid-1980s, Virginia Asphalt Association and VDOT have presented awards for the top paving projects. VDOT awards have focused on top construction and maintenance jobs completed on VDOT projects, while VAA awards shine a spotlight on a variety of non-VDOT jobs. Over the years, the categories and criteria for VDOT and VAA have evolved and adapted. But, in all that time, there has never been a “best of the best.”

Mountain Empire Airport, Smyth County, Virginia (photo courtesy of Mountain Empire Airport)

Inaugural Golden Lute Winner
In December 2019, at the Mid-Atlantic Asphalt Expo & Conference (MAAE), VAA and VDOT recognized outstanding paving projects in a total of seven different categories (VAA – 5 categories and VDOT – 2 categories). Submissions were evaluated on appearance, project complexity, and ride quality to determine the winner of each group. In past years, there was no “Grand Champion” or “Best of The Best” award given. But that has changed! VAA introduced its Golden Lute Award, to be presented annually to the overall best paving project within the Commonwealth. The Golden Lute recipient was selected from the winners of the VDOT and Virginia’s Best categories. W-L Construction & Paving, Inc.(W-L) in Chilhowie, VA, was crowned “the best of the best.” The Golden Lute Award was given for their quality paving efforts at Mountain Empire Airport near Groseclose, VA.

Mountain Empire Airport
Mountain Empire Airport is a public-use airport located in Smyth County, VA. Built in 1958, Mountain Empire is owned and operated by the Smyth-Wythe Airport Commission, which includes representatives from Smyth and Wythe Counties and the towns of Marion and Wytheville. Vital to the community, the airport is used for general, corporate, and military aviation. It sits almost squarely on the continental divide for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Mississippi River. Mr. Curtis Pennington, the airport manager, discussed the needs of the project stating, “W-L provided the upgrade that we needed, an upgrade that was mandated.” According to Pennington, “W-L is a local contractor, and we were glad that money spent on the project remained in the area. We are very pleased with the outcome of the project and expect 20 more years of use.”

Installation of Paving Fabric prior to Overlay

Project Scope
The 5252′ long x 75′ wide runway was in poor condition with extensive cracking and differential settlement along earlier construction joints where previous extensions and widenings had been performed. The rehabilitation project, advertised and administered by Delta Airport Consultants, Inc., included profile milling the existing surface, three types of crack repairs, new 2 ½” surface, lighting, markings, and regrading edges of the runway safety area.

The project conditions permitted a 25-
calendar day, full-closure of the runway to complete the milling and paving operations with $3,000/day liquidated damages. The construction specifications included P-401 asphalt mix with all grades +/- ½” of plans and profile milling areas noted in the plan to accomplish a 2 ½” final surface lift of asphalt. Longitudinal cold joints were limited to 3 for the runway and required a 6″ re-mill of each cold joint to provide a vertical edge for paving the next lane. Before full production of the final asphalt surface, a 300′ x 37.5′ test section was required to demonstrate the contractor’s ability to achieve the project specifications. The minimum densities were 96.3% for the mat and 93.3% for the joints. The PWL – Method of Estimating Percentage of Material Within Specification Limits were specified for acceptance and payment of the asphalt.

Before the start of work, W-L created a GPS model of the planned surface to compare with the existing surface elevations. After dividing and marking the existing surface, milling operations were performed with GPS (millimeter precision) of high areas. Areas that were significantly low were then paved in 1 ½” lifts to reach the bottom of the 2 ½” surface lift. One last GPS milling pass was performed on the entire runway to provide a uniform 2 ½” final mat. Before placement of the last mat, the entire surface was coated in PG64-22 liquid followed by a non-woven fabric to reinforce the pavement structure. The final surface course was placed using two tandem pavers that also incorporated the GPS model, resulting in final grades within 0.02′ of planned grade, which was half of the allowed tolerance. This process also reduced the number of cold joints to one at the centerline of the runway. The project utilized over 13,000 tons of P-401, with 100% of tonnage meeting the PWL specification.

Project Execution and Outcomes
Understanding the importance of the project and the risks associated with a PWL specification, W-L selected two of its’ senior Paving foremen and crews to perform the paving operations. Several planning meetings were held to discuss means and methods before starting the project. Additionally, mix designs were submitted from two different plants in case issues developed at the primary plant. “Planning, effective communication, and experienced milling and paving crews were key factors in the successful execution of this project,” according to Jerry Short, W-L Construction & Paving President. He went on to say, “We approached this as a team by using everyone’s talents and experience. We also stretched ourselves by utilizing GPS in both milling and paving operations.”

Echelon Paving the Runway

Who Will Be Next
At MAAE, VAA President Trenton Clark spoke about the qualities of each paving category winner. All of the projects were unique, so attention needed to be paid to those attributes that separated one winner from another. After visiting all candidate projects for the Golden Lute winner and reviewing the project information submitted, VAA determined the work performed by W-L at Mountain Empire Airport was the top project of 2018. At the end of his presentation, Clark asked the question—“Who will be next?” Clearly, W-L has its eye on the prize. As Jerry Short noted, “It is an honor to be the first recipient of this prestigious award, but all the praise goes to the crews.” As the trophy will be inscribed with the many annual winners in the future, Short is already looking at next year by remarking, “I’m challenging the crews to continue the high-quality work because I would like to see our name on the trophy again.”