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Building the Fifth Runway at Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta officials were not exaggerating when they called Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s fifth runway “the most important runway in America.” Two months after the new runway opened in 2006, Hartsfield reported a 76-percent decrease in flight delays compared with the same month a year earlier. And because delays at Hartsfield create subsequent delays at other airports, the improvements in Atlanta rippled through the nation’s air traffic system. After the new runway opened, immediate reductions in delays were reported in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, and other major cities.

The 9,000-foot runway was built on an embankment of more than 20 million cubic yards of material that had been mined, moved, and placed by 5R Constructors, LLC, which was a partnership of C.W. Matthews Contracting Co., APAC-Georgia, and Thrasher Trucking. The partnership utilized more than eighty pieces of Caterpillar equipment as well as parts, service, and expertise from Yancey Bros. Co.

The numbers alone seemed overwhelming. To meet the three-year timetable, the partnership would have to move more than 20,000 cubic yards of material every hour of every day, nonstop.

Frank Nichols, now retired as president of APAC-Georgia, says the only way to move that much material was with conveyor systems from the borrow pits to the site. Trucking the material would have required 1.65 million round trips—400 trips per hour—generating 16.5 million highway miles and the accompanying pollution and traffic tie-ups. Not to mention they would have needed every dump truck in north Georgia to move that much material. So John D. Stephens built 5.5 miles of conveyors across four highways, including Interstate 285.

The conveyor moved about one cubic yard of material per second with a conveyor speed of about 800 feet per minute. APAC worked at the borrow pits to excavate and prepare the material and then load it onto the conveyor. On the airport end of the conveyor, C. W. Matthews moved the material and placed it.

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