JFK Airport Runway 13R-31L Rehabilitation (John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, NY)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“Port Authority”) renovated runway 13R-31L at JFK Airport with design features that will help mitigate the urban heat island effect and better manage stormwater. The renovation project featured a number of sustainable initiatives and climate change adaptation measures, designed to reduce the environmental impact of the airport over the lifetime of the runway. A life-cycle cost analysis led the Port Authority to utilize concrete pavement in place of asphalt. The project used both Port Authority and federal funding. 

Runway 13R-31L, the second longest commercial runway in the United States, had reached the end of its useful life prior to the 2010 renovation. Operating under design criteria anticipating a 3.3 degree Celsius increase in temperature and 10% increase in precipitation by 2080, the Port Authority conducted a life-cycle cost analysis of the rehabilitation alternatives, and selected concrete pavement after determining it was substantially more economical than asphalt. The Port Authority removed the previous asphalt runway, but retained the existing Portland cement concrete base on which the runway was built, after extensive testing determined it was still safe to utilize. An 18-inch-thick layer of concrete pavement was installed over the existing base.

The use of light-colored concrete, as opposed to more traditional asphalt, reduces the urban heat island effect on the airport because the light-colored concrete absorbs less solar energy than dark asphalt. The concrete runway has a life expectancy nearly 5 times that of asphalt, contributing to an expected $500 million in long-term savings. Use of the existing base saved substantially on excavation costs and the cost of new materials. The previous asphalt runway was removed and used to construct shoulder and erosion pavement and to construct a haul road.

An unanticipated benefit of repaving the runway in concrete over the existing base was that the resulting runway surface was over a foot higher than the graded surface. During Hurricane Sandy, storm surge from the bay rose up onto the runway’s southern safety area (which includes the shoulder and erosion surfaces), never reaching the primary surfaces – the raised surface of this runway acted like a dam, holding back much of the water and protecting property on that side of the airport.

The rehabilitation project also installed a stormwater trench to better manage runoff and reduce the impact on the drainage systems. The stormwater trench allows collected water to percolate into the soil, rather than being channeled to the airport's storm sewer system. This reduces the risk of overloading the airport's storm sewers and causing additional flood risk during storms. The electrical and storm drainage systems were also upgraded.

The runway rehabilitation project was funded by the Port Authority with contributions from federal sources. Through its Delay Reduction Program, the Federal Aviation Administration contributed $73 million. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding provided $15 million. The remaining $200 million cost for the project came directly from the Port Authority. The necessary closure of the runway was a major obstacle. The project required the runway to be closed for 120 days; contractors were offered substantial incentives for early completion of the project. As part of the renovation process, the runway was also widened to accommodate larger planes and additional taxiways were added to reduce delays. More recently, the Port Authority has renovated another runway at JFK, 4L-22R, using concrete materials to replace the asphalt and relocating and improving water quality treatment devices. That project was begun in 2014 and completed in September 2015.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration.


Publication Date: December 2010

Related Organizations:

  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

States Affected: