Rehabilitation Strategies Proposed for Chicago O’Hare International Airport

In June 2001, the City of Chicago unveiled a concept plan for the redevelopment of Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the world’s busiest airport as measured by number of takeoffs and landings.

The plan, known as the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), reconfigures the older airfield into a more efficient runway, terminal, and roadway system associated with a new airfield, thereby substantially reducing delays in all weather conditions, increasing capacity in the airfield, and allowing O’Hare to meet the region’s aviation needs well into the future.

New taxiway lights cause spalling at the interface and create foreign object debris, which can pose safety concern for aircrafts.

New taxiway lights cause spalling at the interface and create foreign object debris, which can pose safety concerns for aircrafts.

As part of the $6.6 billion OMP, a team of faculty experts, with the assistance of graduate students, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is leading a research study titled “Chicago O’Hare International Airport Taxiway A and B Condition Assessment and Rehabilitation Strategies.”

With the pavement structure of O’Hare’s Taxiways A and B (which surround the domestic terminals) reaching the end of its performance life, the need for rehabilitation has become increasingly urgent. Hence, initiation of this research to identify rapid assessment techniques and strategic rehabilitation solutions for the taxiways.

To be able to provide a suitable list of potential rehabilitation strategies, Illinois researchers will use ground-based mobile LiDAR to provide detailed and cost-effective geometric, topographic, and surface drainage condition assessment. In addition, laser-scanning video imaging will be used for investigating the pavement surface condition, ground-penetrating radar for pavement structure inventory and for locating subsurface drainage structures, robotic vehicle technology for visual assessment of the buried drainage system, and unmanned aerial vehicle systems will be used as an alternative tool for geometric, drainage, and visual assessment. Localized assessment of the condition and reinforcement of pavement structure material will be conducted using a recently developed, fully contactless ultrasonic system as well as impact-echo technology.

Experts from several civil engineering disciplines, including professors Jeffery Roesler, David Lange, Joshua Peschel, John Popovics, Imad Al-Qadi, and Marshall Thompson and several graduate research assistants, are working together with O’Hare engineers to conduct the work on Taxiways A and B, which see over 400,000 aircraft operations annually on some of their nodes. The data collected by the UIUC team, along with data provided by O’Hare consulting engineers, are being used to formulate and propose innovative rehabilitation strategies that meet the operational and geometric constraints on Taxiways A and B. For many parts of the taxiways, closures of only 6 to 8 hours will be allowed for the rehabilitation work.

Joint deterioration and spalling observed on O’Hare’s Taxiways A and B.

Joint deterioration and spalling observed on O’Hare’s Taxiways A and B.

“This project brings together a broad array of faculty expertise using the most recent advances in civil engineering sensing to rapidly and safely assess the current condition of the busiest airport taxiways in the world,” says Roesler. “With this rapid and detailed collection of data from the in situ taxiways, rehabilitation strategies can be proposed that minimize delays to the airport users and maximize the new taxiway’s service life.”

The research project, funded by the City of Chicago CARE Plus program, is expected to be completed by January 2016.