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Diverting a River Under Airport Runways

Future growth of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport ran up against a serious issue in the mid-1970s: a river ran through it. The headwaters of the Flint River occur near and to the north of the airport and create a sizeable stream by the time they reach Hartsfield.

C. W. Matthews took on the task of diverting the river through a series of open inverts, closed conduits, and tunneling for almost a mile to an existing open invert south of the airport.

Excavation for the 2,800-foot-long open invert excavation averaged twenty-five feet wide with depths of eighteen to thirty feet and was completed primarily with Caterpillar scrapers and front-end loaders.

Next came an 804-foot-long tunnel under the runways, accomplished with small Cat® backhoes and a front-end loader. A twenty-one-foot tunnel shield with hydraulic rams allowed space for workers to install the primary lining before completing excavation.

C. W. Matthews and Ballenger Corporation also built the third east-west runway in 1974 between two active runways. The companies had to stage construction in four phases so that two taxi routes would always be available.

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