PHX skytrain - AZRE Magazine May/June 2012

All Aboard The PHX Sky Train

PHX Sky Train Stage 1 at Sky Harbor is a moving example of Hensel Phelps’ grand presence and reputation in Arizona

Ask Allan Bliesmer what’s most special about the $644M PHX Sky Train project, and his answer isn’t that surprising.

“The team effort toward a common goal,” responds Bliesmer, operations manager for Hensel Phelps Construction Co., general contractor for the Stage 1 fixed facilities of the massive project at Sky Harbor International Airport. “The city, designer, and Hensel Phelps addressed each challenge with a solutions-orientated approach.

“The people involved in the project refrained from developing or maintaining personal agendas, and worked together, utilizing each member’s expertise, to develop the best design and construction solutions for the project.”

Once Hensel Phelps was selected as construction manager for the first phase of the train’s stations and elevated guide-way tracks, preliminary work began and lasted 20 months — from June 2008 to February 2010. (Bombardier Transportation was chosen as the system provider).

Stage 1 — a 1.7-mile stretch — will transport airport visitors and employees between METRO light rail, east economy parking and Terminal 4, which serves 80% of Sky Harbor’s passengers. Stage 1 is scheduled for completion in 2Q 2012.

What was it about the company that helped Hensel Phelps land such a historic project? Prior to the start of the PHX Sky Train project, Bliesmer says, Hensel Phelps had just completed the automated train project at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. The Dallas-Ft. Worth system was installed throughout the entire airport and spanned a total of 5 miles in length with 8 stations.

In addition, Hensel Phelps has completed billions of dollars of aviation work around the country including automated train systems, terminals, hangars, administration facilities, rental car facilities, air traffic control towers and parking structures at a number of airports.

But one feature that makes PHX Sky Train different from other projects is a 350- foot bridge that carries the train above an active taxiway that is large enough for a 747 to pass through. An article in a national construction magazine boasted that the project “features many innovative design elements,” including the bridge.

“The Taxiway R crossing is a unique item not generally featured at other airports around the world,” Bliesmer says. “In order to maintain full use of the taxiway, the design had to accommodate a ‘bridge’ that would not encumber the use of the largest aircraft planned at the airport.

“To satisfy this, a 350-foot cast in-place concrete ‘bridge,’ at an elevation of 80 feet above grade, was incorporated to provide the necessary clearance. Another innovative approach was the use of precast tub girders in lieu of cast in-place concrete structural elements for a majority of the guideway structure,” Bliesmer adds. “The use of precast allowed the construction team to minimize the real estate needed on the ground to install shoring required for a traditional cast in-place concrete approach, resulting in minimization of issues associated with public access, airport operations and safety.”

The automated train was a necessity. Sky Harbor serves 42M passengers a year, and the number is projected to rise to 40M to 50M in 2013. The goal is to remove about 20,000 cars and trucks — up to 20% of the traffic circling Sky Harbor — from the airport area. The project is also a boon to the local economy. Stage 1 has created an estimated 6,000 jobs.

What are some of the challenges Hensel Phelps faced?

“The primary challenge with the integration of such a large construction project into an active airport,” Bliesmer explains, “is completing the work without causing interruption to the airport and airline operations, as well as maintaining safe access by public and airport employees.”

In order to accomplish public safety and minimize any impact to the airport operations and airline operations, much of the work activity is conducted during night-time hours when flight activity and public access at the airport is at a minimum, Bliesmer adds.

Stage 2, which will continue through the airport to the rental car center, was scheduled for completion in 2020. But last June, the Phoenix City Council voted to move up completion of a .6-mile section to connect Terminal 4 with Terminal 3, along with a walkway for passengers to access Terminal 2, to early 2015. Final cost of the project: $1.5B.

“The state-of-the-art system installed at Sky Harbor is the latest and greatest in the industry,” Bliesmer says proudly. “Having the opportunity to work with the City of Phoenix and the aviation team at Sky Harbor has furthered Hensel Phelps’ experience and recognition throughout the industry.”

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PHX SKY TRAIN BY THE NUMBERS

  • 14M: Pounds of precast concrete
  • 12M: Pounds of structural steel
  • 5,000: Drawings issued for construction
  • 340: Subcontracts issued
  • 40: Miles of wiring (power cabling)

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For more information on PHX Sky Train, visit Sky Harbors’ website at skyharbor.com/about/automatedtrain.html.

AZRE Magazine May/June 2012