How RDU Is Refreshing Its Runways

5L-23R runway photoNext time you’re taxiing from your gate at RDU, you might notice a few hard hats around the airfield. We’re busy refreshing both of the airport’s commercial runways.

You may have read about RDU’s plans to replace its main runway, 5L/23R, located adjacent to Terminal 2. That project – expected to cost at least $350 million – will extend the runway to 11,500 feet to accommodate larger planes and allow nonstop flights to long-distance destinations as far away as Asia. The new runway is projected to open as soon as 2025, given the environmental review process and construction will take several years.

In the meantime, we’re hard at work keeping the current 5L/23R runway flight-ready. RDU’s primary runway opened in 1986. After more than three decades of service, the 10,000-foot, concrete runway has reached the end of its useful life due to pavement deterioration. Runway 5L/23R now requires regular replacement of deteriorating concrete slabs to allow large international aircraft and heavy cargo planes to continue using it.

RDU completed its first three-month phase of runway repair work on June 30, replacing 35 of the runway’s 2,500 slabs; not all slabs require immediate replacement. As part of the initial phase, crews also completed repairs to concrete spalling and the joint seal. Working on an international airport’s primary runway requires precision and perfection, since the nonstop flights to Paris and London and some cargo operations must have access to the longer runway to take off.

During the construction process, the airport closes the runway beginning at 10 p.m. Construction crews immediately get to work on a 625-square-foot concrete slabs — first demolishing and removing the slab, then pouring new concrete in its place. The entire process takes about six hours, leaving enough time for the concrete to cure before the runway reopens at 4 p.m. the following day to allow the Boeing 767 and 777 to depart for Europe. The next evening, the process is repeated to replace more slabs.

Read The News & Observer’s recent coverage of RDU’s runway preservation program to learn more.

Construction has halted for the summer, and crews will resume work in September for another three-month construction window. RDU will continue the preservation program for years to come – until we’re ready to cut the ribbon on the new Runway 5L/23R.

Across the airport, crews are commencing work on runway 5R/23L, which sits next to Terminal 1. 5R/23L is comprised of asphalt pavement, and features center line lights for the entire 7,500-foot distance and touchdown zone lights on the 23L (north) side.

Beginning June 12, crews will mill and repave much of the runway center line pavement – about a 14-foot-wide stripe. To do so, the center line lights must be removed for protection and will be re-set after paving is complete. If time and weather permit, other areas of pavement that are exhibiting preliminary signs of failure will be milled and repaved, mostly on the west side of the centerline.

Work on 5R/23L will take place on weekends from 9 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Monday and requires runway closure. This schedule minimizes potential impacts to RDU’s airfield operations. The 5R/23L rehabilitation project is expected to wrap up by Sept. 1.

Read about RDU’s Refresh campaign and other improvement projects happening around the airport.