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Gary airport construction work takes shape

RWireman DLZ inspector walks by as others work preparing ground for new railroad track bridge during tour runway expansiprogram Gary-Chicago

Ron Wireman, a DLZ inspector, walks by as others work on preparing the ground for a new railroad track and bridge during a tour of the runway expansion program at the Gary-Chicago International Airport in Gary, Ind. Tuesday August 21, 2012. This is the northern end of the expansion project, which includes moving about 2.2 miles of railroad track. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 23, 2012 6:12AM



GARY — The clearing of the NBD property along the east side of Cline Avenue at the Chicago Avenue exit most likely goes unnoticed by the thousands of drivers who use the route every day.

Last year at this time, the 84-acre area was replete with piles of concrete, dirt, reeds, trees and other debris collected from years of dumping and native growth. Now, most of it comprises runway expansion and its 1,000-foot safety area, ground and compacted to save on fill costs, said runway expansion project manager Scott Wheeler during a Tuesday morning tour of the construction work.

Of the more than 40,000 cubic yards of debris moved, it covers perhaps half of the area, and much more is needed to get the runway raised an additional 6 to 8 feet.

Wheeler understands the project may not look like there’s much going on. But compared to where it was last year, he’s satisfied with how it’s gone so far.

“It’s not exciting,” Wheeler said. “It’s not like building a skyscraper, where you can see it growing from the ground, but it’s going quickly.”

Wheeler, along with Interim Airport Director Steve Landry and marketing liaison James Ward, took reporters through the project, starting at the very south end with the Cavanaugh Wye. Described as sort of a U-turn for trains, the wye connects three EJ&E tracks — one that goes to the BP Whiting Refinery and two that head west of Cline.

The wye’s culvert and sub-ballast are almost complete, Wheeler said, and construction crews are waiting for the metal to construct the new bridge. Work on it is slated to start by fall.

Work is also just about complete on the 1,300-foot-long, 13-foot-high and 7-foot-wide box culvert along Cline Avenue. Most of the concrete has been poured to protect a 30-inch, high-pressure NIPSCO gas pipe that runs adjacent to the drainage ditch along Cline, and protective slabs will be added as well.

Encasing the pipe was one of the project’s unexpected elements that increased the entire expansion costs more than $50 million, Wheeler said. But they’re not frivolous costs.

“If it were just the EJ&E using that part of the track, they run slower and lighter, so for them the culvert wasn’t necessary,” Landry said. “But for (Canadian National, which purchased EJ&E), it’s a transnational track that requires it.

“With the change in (the tracks’) alignment, we had no way of knowing beforehand we would incur this cost.”

Neither could anyone have known just how toxic land to the south of the NBD property was. Piles of PCB-laden, oil-drenched dirt waiting to be capped with impervious clay remain along the road. And ,Wheeler said, a 150-foot-long mass of block asbestos had to be removed.

On the project’s north end, concrete columns will be poured Monday for the grade crossing bridge over the Roland property, where the south abutment has already been poured. The bridge will be filled with expanded polystyrene — of which nine truckloads a day have been brought to the site — and topped with concrete.

As far as meeting the December 2013 deadline, Wheeler remains cautiously optimistic.

“I think we’re doing OK,” he said. “We’re not without our problems, but we’re working will all the agencies involved, and right now, we’re on time and on budget.”



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