GARY | The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority on Monday reached a long-sought, key agreement with Canadian National Railway Co. to relocate its tracks for the airport's $162 million expansion.
The agreement will position the hub as the third major airport in the region, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said at a news conference Monday at the airport.
"This is definitely a win for Gary and Northwest Indiana," she said.
The agreement is the last one the airport needs to give a final green light to its expansion plans, after wrapping up agreements with two other railroads in the past four months. Even without the Canadian National agreement, the authority has embarked on millions of dollars in expansion-related construction projects.
The expansion will allow the airport to "attract a different and larger type of aircraft," interim Airport Director Steve Landry said. It is expected to be complete by September 2013.
Freeman-Wilson said the expansion will bring revenue to Gary in several ways, including the construction process. A boost in long-term cash flow is expected through increased activity at the airport.
"This allows us to market the Gary/Chicago International Airport that much more and add to the economic effect," she said.
The CN tracks have to be moved because they sit on a high embankment just 130 feet from the northwest end of the Gary airport's main runway. The Federal Aviation Administration has mandated the safety areas at either end of the runway be expanded or the agency will nullify the certification for the runway's current 7,000-foot length.
The airport's plan is to expand the runway to 8,900 feet with runway safety areas at both ends to comply with FAA rules.
When asked how the agreement will affect the push toward a third Chicago-area airport in Peotone, Freeman-Wilson said she wanted to remind everyone, including Illinois U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., that "this is the third airport."
"You're talking about the fourth airport in Peotone," she said. "Certainly we don't want to foreclose any economic opportunity for any community."
Freeman-Wilson said the proposed Peotone airport is "much different" there, and she doesn't believe the two sites are at odds.
"But at the end of the day, this is the third airport, and if he (Jackson) could get (Illinois) Gov. (Pat) Quinn to sign off on a fourth airport, then so be it," she said.
Paul Ladue, regional director of contracts and administration for CN, said the agreement follows a diligent effort by the city of Gary and the airport.
"We are pleased to have completed this important agreement which will allow the runway expansion project to move forward," he said.
Freeman-Wilson credited Gary Corporation Counsel Niquelle Allen for closing the deal.