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BusINess » Business Transportation » Gary/Chicago airport ready to expand main runway

Gary/Chicago airport ready to expand main runway

Wil Davis, Gary Jet Center owner, stands in 2008 at the northwest end of Gary/Chicago International Airport's main runway, just a few hundred feet from the railroad tracks that block its expansion. On Thursday, Davis warned the airport authority board that his business and others are in peril if the tracks are not moved. (Photograph by The Times.)

Wil Davis, Gary Jet Center owner, stands in 2008 at the northwest end of Gary/Chicago International Airport's main runway, just a few hundred feet from the railroad tracks that block its expansion. On Thursday, Davis warned the airport authority board that his business and others are in peril if the tracks are not moved. (Photograph by The Times.)

The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority on Thursday voted 5-0 to approve an agreement more than a decade in the making that should clear the way for expanding its main runway.

The agreement with Canadian National Railway Co. provides for the reroute of railroad tracks that sit on an embankment just 130 feet from the northwest end of the airport’s main runway, airport attorney Patrick Lyp told the board.

“It’s the step that opens the door, so now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” board member John Evans said after the meeting.

Canadian National confirmed Thursday it has agreed to the basic terms for moving the tracks.

“We are committed to working with the Gary airport and moving this process forward,” Canadian National spokesman Patrick Waldron said.

The agreement contains a purchase-and-sale agreement as well as laying out terms for further design work that has to be done.

Despite voting for the milestone agreement, board members were cautious about declaring victory after Thursday’s vote, conscious of the years of twists and turns in negotiating with the railroads.

Lyp said he expects to have the agreement with Canadian National signed within 10 days. But he also told the board final agreements still must be concluded with CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., which own tracks north of the airport.

Board member Silas Wilkerson asked Lyp for a date on which all those agreements might be in place. Lyp said he could not give a date, but said construction should be able to start in the spring.

The owner of the Gary Jet Center warned the board that extending the runway is essential to his business and others at the airport, such as the Boeing Corp. executive flight facility.

“The reality is, the railroads don’t want this to happen,” Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis told the board. “The status quo is what they want, and we can’t accept the status quo.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has warned the airport that if the runway is not lengthened by Sept. 30, 2013, it will declare the current 7,000-foot runway shorter by 1,000 feet, which would make the airport out of bounds for larger jets. The FAA would take that action because the runway currently lacks mandated 1,000-foot safety areas at its ends.

When the airport received approval for $57.8 million in FAA funding for the runway expansion project in 2006, airport officials hoped the expansion could be completed in a few years.

The Gary Jet Center currently is preparing to erect a new headquarters flight facility at the airport at a cost of more than $6 million.

“I can’t make a $6 million investment with a 6,000-foot runway,” Davis said.

The project to reroute the tracks westward to Cline Avenue and then back along Chicago Avenue carries an estimated $28 million price tag, airport engineer Ken Ross said. An overpass for cars planned for Industrial Avenue would cost about another $17 million.

Much of the reroute will be paid for with federal funds. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority also has signaled it will consider contributing to the project. Ross said outside funding will be sought for the Industrial Avenue overpass, which would eliminate an at-grade CSX crossing at Industrial Avenue and the Canadian National overpass just east of there.

On Thursday, the airport authority on a 5-0 vote also approved a $900,000 expenditure to buy land owned by AmeriGas near Cline Avenue and $331,500 to move the company’s facility to another location in the city. Lyp said that expense also is eligible for federal funding.

The facility is the last major land purchase needed to make way for the railroad reroute, Lyp said.

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