Runway project underway at Reno-Tahoe Airport

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RENO, NV (KOLO) - Each day seems busy at Reno-Tahoe International Airport where passenger volume topped 4.2 million last year, marking 45 consecutive months of growth.

No one expects that trend to change. All that traffic is, however, forcing some upgrades.

The latest is now underway though it's unlikely any of the arriving or departing passengers noticed unless they had a window seat and happened to glance out the window at the east runway.

The shorter of the two parallel north-south runways, Runway 16L is currently closed as construction crews are busy digging up 30-year-old asphalt along the shoulder.

The pavement here is concrete. Seventeen inches thick, it is only five years old and in good shape. This first phase of the project--$16 million worth-- is mostly about the shoulders. That doesn't mean it isn't important.

Like the asphalt on the street in front of your house, the weather has its effect on these shoulders eventually causing cracks.

"If a plane were to veer off a runway we want to make sure it doesn't catch a gear and plant the nose in the infield, " says Tony Curatolo, the airport's Senior Project Manager. "So there's very strict requirements for any gaps or any drops that you have."

This work will continue through November. Phase two follows next year with shoulder and concrete work on the west runway. During the expected three years of this project, one or the other of these runways will be closed with the other getting all the traffic--commercial, general and military.

The airport is confident the traveling public won't be affected, though airport spokesman Brian Kulpin says it's possible there may be limits on the number of seats sold on some flights next summer in the heat of the day when temperature and altitude combine to reduce lift.

"When we're doing that longer runway, it may affect some of the passengers that we can get on some of the planes. Instead of 150 passengers on a plane, we may only get 140 on some of the hottest days of the year. But the airlines are aware of that. we've communicated to them we're going to get this done the fastest and safest way possible."

At the end of the project the runways will be ready for more decades of service. Fun fact: thanks to a shift in the earth's magnetic pole they'll also get new names.

"Compasses on aircraft are based on magnetism" says Curatolio. "So we're going to be changing the numbers of our runways as well as part of this project. Instead of 16 it will be 17."

Another detail which will likely go unnoticed by just about everyone passing through.

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