Pollution, railroad tracks blocking Gary airport expansion

2013-10-15T15:15:00Z 2013-10-15T16:09:12Z Pollution, railroad tracks blocking Gary airport expansionBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Gary/Chicago International Airport's new interim director is tackling the daunting task of how to complete the $166 million runway expansion project on budget and on time.

"We are all working together to identify exactly what the challenges are and how they can be approached," Interim Airport Director B.R. Lane told the airport authority board at its regular meeting Tuesday.

AECOM project manager John Lukas delivered the most detailed briefing yet on the challenges facing the project, which revolve around the need for two railroads to conclude an agreement on track rights and the need to clean up highly polluted soils in the path of the runway expansion.

Two weeks ago, the airport authority voted 7-0 to pay AECOM up to $1.3 million to assess pollution on airport property and form plans for cleanup. That payment is addition to the $3.1 million contract AECOM already had for managing the expansion project.

Lukas described the regular unearthing of pipelines containing oil on a property directly in the path of the new runway as construction of the runway is proceeding. He also outlined the need to test for pollution under a railroad embankment that carries Canadian National Railway trains.

But the embankment will not be tested until the Canadian National tracks can be moved. Those tracks also sit directly in the path of the expanded runway. More than $30 million has been spent by the airport authority on brand new rerouted tracks for the railroad. But the railroad has made it known it cannot move trains onto those tracks, and off the embankment, until CSX and Norfolk Southern conclude a pact on track rights north of the airport, Lukas said.

"This is a challenging project," Lukas said. "That is a very challenging piece of property out there."

In early July, airport and city officials announced the completion of the expansion project was being pushed back to September 2014 from an earlier deadline of the end of this year. The project will lengthen the main runway to 8,900 feet from its current 7,000 feet and add required safety areas at either end.

Lane questioned Lukas repeatedly on how new pollution being uncovered will affect the timeline and budget for the project.

Lukas said contingency funds set aside so far are covering all increased costs. But the question of completing the project within its $166 million budget can only conclusively be answered once it is known how much environmental cleanup is needed.

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