Gary/Chicago International Airport's expansion project will again miss a deadline for completion, with construction of the runway extension now projected to stretch into next year.
Airport consultant Dan Vicari told the Northwest Indiana RDA on Thursday if railroad agreements are finalized as expected, Canadian National Railway could begin constructing links to its new tracks near Cline Avenue by October.
That would mean its trains could stop using their current route into Kirk Yard within months. Those tracks sit on an embankment at the end of the airport's main runway and have been the main obstacle blocking its expansion.
Once Canadian National starts using its new tracks the embankment can be taken down and construction of the extension's final piece can begin.
"This is what we have absolutely been working toward for years," Airport Director B.R. Lane told the RDA board. "... We see this as monumental progress."
In July 2013, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced the airport project would not be completed by the city's deadline of December of that year. She said pollution on the site was worse than expected and it would take some time to determine the best means of cleaning it up. She said the project would be completed by September 2014.
In response to a reporter's questions after the meeting, Lane confirmed the cost of the runway expansion is now estimated to exceed its previous price tag of $166 million. But she would not say by how much.
Lane also said it was "pure speculation" to say the project would not be completed until sometime in 2015. But Vicari's comments made that fact obvious, because in addition to getting the railroad embankment out of the way, another major project is awaiting the go-ahead.
Vicari said the airport authority continues to negotiate with environmental regulators on taking care of polluted soils in the area of the runway extension. He said a "green" storm water management plan is now the authority's preferred solution to the problem.
The green plan will keep pollution from flowing into the Grand Calumet River south of the airport. But it will take a reconstruction of the entire storm management system, Vicari said.
Before Vicari's presentation, the RDA board voted 5-0 to authorize moving the last $7.2 million of a $30 million grant it approved for the airport three years ago into an escrow fund. That money will be combined with money from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the airport's own building fund to pay for a $22.8 million railroad project north of the airport.
That project must be on a solid footing before Canadian National will move its trains out of the way of the runway and will also make room for future expansion of the airport's crosswind runway.
"This highlights that this has always been a rail relocation project, with three Class I railroads in one of the busiest rail corridors in the nation," Hanna said.
Hanna told a Times reporter Wednesday it was safe to assume the project would push into 2015 because of all the work remaining. Hanna said he remained confident the project could be completed by the Federal Aviation Administration's deadline of August 2015.