Gary Airport expansion taking flight

March 26, 2012 2:52:00 PM PDT
Air travel is about the take-off in Northwest Indiana where officials hope to attract major passenger airlines by expanding the Gary Airport runway.

The idea has been out there for years, but now it may be a reality that could help the financially-ailing city of Gary.

"We're a work in progress," Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. The mayor announced an agreement Monday that allows for the Gary/Chicago International Airport to extend one of its two runways.

"In a nutshell, what the runway expansion will allow us to do is attract a different type of aircraft, a larger type of aircraft," Steven Landry said. Landry is the interim director at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

A longer runway is crucial to attracting larger cargo planes and carriers, according to Nathanial T. Williams, chairman at Gary/Chicago International Airport.

"This agreement has been outstanding for a long time and we've been trying to get it done," Williams said.

The seven member Gary Airport Board voted unanimously Monday for the plan that will lengthen the airport's main runway from 7,000 feet to nearly 9,000 feet with the purchase of 200 acres of land. A set of Canadian National Railroad tracks will also have to be relocated. The tracks are currently just 130-feet from the main runway.

"So in order to make it happen, they have to reroute us this way," Patrick Waldron, Canadian National senior spokesperson said.

Gary officials want the $166 million expansion project to turn the airport into the third major local hub in Chicago. Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior is backing another plan-- at Peotone Airport. He plans a "symbolic groundbreaking" there next month.

"But at the end of the day, this is the third airport and if in fact he can get Governor Quinn to sign on to a fourth airport, then so be it," Freeman-Wilson said.

Although the current plan is seen as a possible economic engine for the city of Gary, it does have its critics. Jim Nowacki who doubts everyday people will any benefit.

"But we're going to get none of the jobs. They've got everything in a TIF district, so we're going to get zero tax increases," Nowacki said.

Other people say any plan that helps Gary is a good thing.

"Any time they try to help this city. I think it would help out quite a little bit," Daryl Exom, Northwest Indiana resident, said.

The project should be complete by December of 2013.

Funding comes mostly from the federal government, the FAA and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The airport is also pitching in, as is the Chicago Department of Aviation through its passenger facility charges.