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Cracks appear in Tampa International Airport's 3-year-old taxiway

TAMPA — A new taxiway bridge that Tampa International Airport built in 2010 was supposed to make it easier for airliners to move back and forth between runways. It was supposed to last for 75 years.

But defects started showing up well short of 2085. The first fractures were found last year. More cracks were found this March, when the airport shut its new Taxiway B.

Tampa International officials have been negotiating with the builder ever since to get the $6.5 million bridge fixed.

"We expect them to fix it," said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps, "and we expect them to make it right."

Tampa International has two paths that allow planes to taxi between runways. Taxiway A and Taxiway B run north-south, are parallel to each other and are north of the main terminal.

But Taxiway B intersected with an access road for airport vehicles, N Hoover Boulevard, which connects to Hillsborough Avenue. The vehicles had to stop and yield to airliners. That meant the intersection had to be heavily monitored by air traffic control.

So in 2010, the airport built an elevated taxiway bridge over the access road, allowing planes to taxi over the roadway. Taxiway B was the busier of the two, handling about 90 planes a day.

According to Nipps, cracks in the surface pavement of the new bridge were found last summer during a regular inspection of the taxiways and runways. The fractures were hairline cracks several feet in length.

In September, the airport had an engineering firm look at the cracks. Their assessment: the bridge was safe, Nipps said, but additional engineering was needed to address the cracks.

Then in March more long cracks were discovered. So the airport closed Taxiway B and diverted all airplane ground traffic to Taxiway A, which now handles about 125 planes a day.

"We started feeling like there were more cracks than we felt comfortable with," Nipps said, "given how new the bridge was."

The bridge has to support the weight of a fully loaded commercial airplane. For example, the Boeing 737-700s that will start flying from Tampa to the nation of Panama in December have a maximum takeoff weight of around 155,000 pounds each.

The airport is negotiating with the builder, Hubbard Construction Co., over how to repair the cracks, Nipps said. It's a subsidiary of the Hubbard Group of Orlando, which bills itself as the biggest heavy civil construction company in the state.

"We believe that the cracks make the bridge unsafe," Nipps said, "and it's kind of a warranty issue. We want to make sure the bridge is as perfect as it can be."

Hubbard could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. The airport did not say how much the repairs might cost.

Passengers shouldn't notice delays due to the closure of Taxiway B, Nipps said. But it has made things harder for pilots and air traffic controllers alike.

"Regular people who fly in and out of here won't know any difference," Nipps said. "But the pilots who fly those planes have to communicate with air traffic controllers so everyone knows where everyone is going, and air traffic controllers have to pay closer attention to what is going on in that area.

"We can function without that bridge, but it definitely makes things easier for us. Obviously if we're going to be a growing airport, we need to have that bridge there."

Information from Bay News 9 was used in this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, thalji@tampabay.com or @jthalji on Twitter.

Cracks appear in Tampa International Airport's 3-year-old taxiway 08/22/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 4:47am]
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