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Hold for takeoff: Runway project brings jobs to Gary

Maps

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



GARY — Saying the long-awaited project would create jobs and attract investment, Gary/Chicago International Airport officials broke ground Wednesday on a two-and-a-half year construction plan to lengthen the airport’s runway.

“Northwest Indiana’s engine turns today in the biggest economic development in the Chicago region,” Gary Mayor Rudy Clay said.

Gary/Chicago International Airport Interim Director Steve Landry said the reconstruction project will create about 1,000 jobs and attract private investment for the airport.

Agreements with Canadian National, CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads to reroute railroad tracks were key to the project’s start. Currently, CN railroad tracks run near the runway’s end. To extend the runway, railway companies had to agree to a plan moving tracks to the airport’s perimeter, a plan Clay said took 47 years to finalize.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which provided $57.8 million in funding, gave the airport until December 2013 to extend the runway. If the airport doesn’t comply, the FAA will order the runway shortened. The Regional Development Authority provided $30 million for the project.

Runway construction will not begin until 2012, when the new runway segment will be constructed. In 2013, current railroad tracks will be removed and the two runway segments will be joined to form an 8,900-foot runway, a 1,900-foot extension.

Wednesday’s groundbreaking took place in a former landfill. The airport needs to clear all landfill soil and bring in new soil to ensure the land is environmentally safe.

Landry listed the major projects that begin almost immediately:

Cleaning out soil from the former landfill and replacing it with new soil.

Putting drainage and utilities in place to later construct an overpass over Industrial Highway, a road that runs adjacent to the airport.

Doing preparation work for two CN railroad bridges on the new track routes.

Compacting soil near the railroad bridge site, which was formerly a dump site, to prevent railroad tracks from sinking.

Projects to be tackled later include extending the runway, permanently blocking off a segment of Chicago Avenue for the new railroad route and more soil cleanup near the runway’s current ending point.

Jerry Carrington, deputy executive director of the Chicago/Gary Regional Airport Authority, said Chicago has a “phenomenal interest” in seeing the airport develop.

“Ideally, people in the community are saying, this would be the third airport,” behind the O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway Airport, Carrington said.

Gary/Chicago Airport’s expanded runway would be longer than Midway’s. A longer runway will allow for overflow cargo and private jet planes bogging down Midway and O’Hare, Carrington said.

Landry, and Mark Lopez, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and several other officials spoke of the need to continue private investment to ensure the airport succeeds.

“We’ll have to roll our sleeves up and stimulate the next economic engine in Northwest Indiana,” Lopez said. “The true celebration is 30 years from now when people are bustling through the terminals and moving cargo.”



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