The new Airport Road overpass could open as early as this week and the Gary airport authority wants to see it named for a Tuskegee airman.
Two lanes of the bridge will open this week, weather cooperating, opening Airport Road to traffic from Cline Avenue for the first time since last year, according to airport expansion project manager Scott Wheeler.
Last June, Superior Construction won the $11.56 million contract to build the overpass, which is part of the Gary/Chicago International Airport's $166 million runway expansion project. The overpass had to be built in order to comply with railroads' stipulation that there be no new at-grade rail crossings added for the runway expansion.
Tracks that currently cross Airport Road on a viaduct east of the new overpass will be taken out this summer to make way for the new runway segment and trains will be shifted to newly built tracks that run parallel to Cline Avenue, cross Chicago Avenue, and go under the new overpass.
The opening of one lane in each direction for vehicles on the overpass means Chicago Avenue from Cline Avenue to Airport Road will be closed to through traffic. The closure will be permanent, with access only allowed for the few businesses still located along that stretch of Chicago Avenue.
All four lanes on the bridge, two in each direction, could be open by July, Wheeler said. Airport Road was formerly called Industrial Highway. It is designated as part of U.S. 12, a major truck route.
The airport authority at its meeting Monday in a 7-0 vote approved a motion by Authority Vice President Rev. Marion Johnson to name the new overpass for Tuskegee Airman and long-time Gary educator Quentin Smith, who died Jan. 15 at the age of 94.
That resolution will now be sent over to the city of Gary, which appears to have the right to name the bridge, according to Airport Attorney Patrick Lyp. It most likely would be taken up by the city's Board of Public Works or Common Council.
Johnson proposed naming the bridge for Smith a short time after he died.
"I think it would be a beautiful idea," he said at the time. "It removes the politics and politicians altogether. It would be a great tribute to his commitment to his community and his commitment to the nation."
In addition to serving in the famed World War II air squadron made up of black aviators, Smith was a civil rights pioneer who once was jailed for occupying a whites-only officers club in Seymour, Ind., with other black officers.