Piecing Together a Construction Puzzle

Storing construction materials for new terminal is an ongoing challenge

By Oscar Rzodkiewicz

Published April 10, 2023

Read Time: 3 mins


Imagine a real-world game of Tetris in which the shapes are enormous pieces of steel and concrete. That’s what project managers at Pittsburgh International Airport’s new Terminal Modernization Program deal with every day.

The construction site sits mere feet away from the current airside terminal serving thousands of passengers a day, necessitating a high degree of vigilance to ensure that the project doesn’t affect airport operations.

To complicate matters, the new terminal project is confined to strict physical boundaries because of airport security rules. Workers on the new terminal project must be registered to the Eyrus safety and location tracking system, become OSHA-certified and be trained in and adhere to all TMP safety guidelines even though they don’t have badges allowing them access to secure areas of the airport.

So space near the new terminal, Multi-Modal Complex parking structure, and new roadway system is limited—creating challenges when trying to store enormous pieces of structural components. To get the job done, workers engage in a daily ballet of rearrangement, aided by constant communication and specialized technology.

“What we’ve done is take the area available and make the best use of it,” said Eric Ferguson, Eric Ferguson, general superintendent with PJ Dick/Hunt, the terminal construction manager.

That includes making sure that the right materials are accessible when they’re needed.

“When we first started, we had acres and acres of land, and that quickly went away,” said Pat Garrett, roadways supervisor for PJ Dick/Hunt.

“It’s more important than ever to make sure that whatever we bring into the site is needed quickly so we don’t have anything sitting here for a long period of time.”

How it works

Since most materials cannot be installed right as they are delivered, the main storage space for large items is on Taxiway Bravo off the Clinton exit on the Parkway West, which also serves as an employee entrance to the site.

“That allows us to bring all of our employees, all of our deliveries, and all of our concrete trucks, whatever it might be, in off a very convenient exit,” Ferguson said.

Bravo is separated into three sections that each stage different materials—steel, precast concrete and miscellaneous materials, respectively—and that requires coordination with the local companies delivering material, like Sippel Steel in nearby Ambridge, Pa., and Sidley Precast in Youngwood, Pa., to ensure space is used efficiently.

Construction management holds daily conversations with foremen on each part of the project to keep materials flowing into the site and installed on the project.

The project has many different contractors and subcontractors working on different aspects of the building—from steel, to plumbing, to carpentry and more—so each uses unified building information modeling (BIM) software to make sure each of their work does not interfere with the others.

The software can pinpoint areas that may clash with each other, like piping that is planned to run into a piece of structural steel, and can help reroute those pieces ahead of time instead of having to adjust on the fly in the field.

Coordination with the airport

Because PIT continues to operate as usual while construction continues, crews prioritize mitigating any impacts to flyers. Many aspects of the project need to be meticulously coordinated with air traffic control and airport operators.

Vertical airspace plays a big of a role in pre-planning, specifically when it comes to the cranes on-site.

Each crane is tracked via GPS, and the operators have a direct line of communication with air traffic controllers and airport operations employees to ensure the safest maneuvers.

Every day, before work can begin, permission must be obtained to allow the cranes to rise.

“We have two cranes that we consider our impact cranes, meaning when fully boomed up, they impact the airspace. Every morning, I call airport operations to see if we can boom all the cranes up, but we make sure those two impact cranes also call in individually,” Ferguson said.

That line of communication is critical in case the cranes need to be lowered quickly as well.

Some aspects of the construction project, specifically the new roadway system, require more overlap with current airport function, and the construction team plans months in advance to limit impact to passengers.

“When we have work like that we need to do, we go to the airport and say, ‘This is the work we need to do and why. How can we accomplish this?’” Garrett said.

That level of coordination has remained consistent since the beginning of the project to maintain the safety of workers, efficiency of the work and impacts to travelers.

The new, smarter, greener airport arrives in 2025.

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