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Planning for Gary airport’s future — it’s about the runway

Allegiant Flight 651 is pushed intaxi positiby tug before take off Gary Chicago International Airport Gary Ind. Wednesday February 15

Allegiant Flight 651 is pushed into taxi position by a tug before take off at the Gary Chicago International Airport in Gary, Ind. Wednesday February 15, 2012. Wednesday was the inaugural flight for Allegiant from the airport. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 15, 2014 6:06AM



GARY — The future of Gary/Chicago International Airport was up for discussion Friday as a variety of representatives from government, business, engineering, infrastructure and environmental agencies determined where its opportunities and challenges lie.

Its opportunities are many — from serving as a reliever airport and handling private aviation and cargo business, to creating job training programs for potential airport jobs, creating an eco-district around the airport, and even serving as a drone hub — but before any of that can happen, a major piece of the puzzle has to be in place.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the airport’s future is the $166 million runway expansion, which is stalled due to a railroad embankment. Airport officials are in discussions with Canadian National, whose trains are carried to Kirk Yard via the berm, to reroute the tracks before the berm can be removed. Without it, the airport cannot expand its main runway to 8,900 feet and is at a significant disadvantage compared to other airports.

New airport operator Aviation Facilities Co. and its subsidiary, AvPorts, helped put together the charette at Indiana University Northwest, and they are committed to finishing the runway expansion.

More than 50 people participated in the charette — an intensive planning process — and presented reports on five topics: on-airport development, off-airport development, workforce development and local hiring, environment and sustainability and transportation.

The reports were presented to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; Gary/Chicago Airport Authority board member Denise Dillard; Regional Development Authority board member Harley Snyder; and Michael Zonsius, the chief financial officer of the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The proposed airport in Peotone, Ill., was mentioned as a potential challenge to Gary’s future success, but Soliday, for one, doesn’t buy it.

“I keep seeing Peotone stories, but we’re 30 minutes from Chicago, and I don’t know any interstate, even the Illiana, that gets you downtown that quickly,” Soliday said. “Also, what airline wants to build a brand-new terminal ... with O’Hare nearby?”

Bo Kemp, a senior adviser to Freeman-Wilson, said a master plan for the airport isn’t scheduled to be complete until sometime next year, but this planning process will help to create a vision document, using elements from Friday’s sessions.

“We’re able to identify issues, such as the stormwater management situation,” Kemp said. “It’s a great idea because we have to find some place to put the sewage. These sorts of things we need to think about now instead of having to go back later on to fix them.”

Freeman-Wilson thanked participants for their presence during the discussion.

“Thank you for your input and I hope you have seen by the substance of this discussion how much we value your contribution,” she said. “This is so critical to our efforts to move forward in the city of Gary. With your help, this airport will finally become what we all know it can be.”



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