South St. Paul airport planning runway, taxiway rebuilds

The taxiway and runway at Fleming Field in South St. Paul are slated for reconstruction in the coming years, though work won’t change the types of aircraft that can use the municipal airport. (courtesy of SEH)

Despite work not taking place until 2021, discussions are underway for updating the runway and taxiway at Fleming Field, the municipal airport in South St. Paul. 

Airport Director Andrew Wall said at a Sept. 12 open house that the airport has been in South St. Paul since the 1940s when it was used as a Navy base.

Its runway was last reconstructed in 1989. Wall said an asphalt runway normally lasts 20 to 25 years — the runway at Fleming Field is pushing 30 years old.

“We’re at that point where we need to do something,” he said.

Since last fall the airport has been working with engineering firm SEH in what Wall termed preplanning to set the course for roughly $3 million of runway work.


What to improve

Kaci Nowicki, a project manager with SEH, said planning is currently focused on what exactly will take place at the airport.

“We’re able to, in this case, take a look at the runway and taxiway project to figure out what we need to do. What’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What do we want to put back out there?” Nowicki said.

Both the airport’s taxiway and single runway are wider than they need to be for the majority of aircraft served by the airport, while in some areas the taxiway doesn’t meet current design standards.

“I think that 100-foot width really kind of goes back to that military history here at the airport,” Nowicki said, noting that work could be phased on the runway since there’s only one.

The runway and taxiway work will largely be funded by Federal Aviation Administration grants, which usually provide 90% of funding for these types of projects, Nowicki said. Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics also provides 5% of funding for state projects, leaving the remaining 5% to be paid by the city.


Status quo

Nowicki said planners spoke with airport users and much of what they heard is that the extra width on the taxiway and runway is useful from a safety standpoint.

Another big factor is the commemorative air force that uses the airport.

“I mentioned that the runway width really came from probably more of the earlier military use of the airport,” Nowicki said. “If you look at [the commemorative air force’s] aircraft, they’re older military aircrafts.”

She said the air force was able to provide supporting documentation to the FAA as to why the existing width of the runway and taxiway are critical to what it does, with the federal agency eventually agreeing to keep the current lengths and widths of the features.

Nowicki said the taxiway will see some design changes to improve safety, including clearer delineation of where it ends and the runway begins.

“The FAA is encouraging airports to do everything they can to make it very obvious and noticeable when you’re entering the runway environment,” she said.


Minimal impact

Shawn McMahon, a project manager with SEH, said planners looked at a number of ways to reconstruct the runway. After examining a variety of options and construction techniques, McMahon said the project will use pavement reclamation, which carries an estimated price tag of $2.9 million.

With pavement reclamation, a machine grinds the existing pavement and mixes it with the aggregate base to create a new base material that is thicker, increasing its strength. McMahon said a new bituminous layer then gets paved on top of the recycled base, saving time and cash.

“You can actually perform this operation much more quickly because you don’t have to dig things out and you don’t have to put things back,” he said. “You’re actually removing steps of the construction process.”

Work on the runway is anticipated to begin in 2021, with the taxiway construction slated for as soon as 2023. 

McMahon said there will be community outreach during the design and construction stages.


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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