INDIANAPOLIS | Dirt will fly by the Fourth of July.
That's the promise Steve Landry, interim director of the Gary/Chicago International Airport, made to the Regional Development Authority on Thursday, saying the airport is eager to begin work on a $128.4 million project moving railroad tracks to make way for a runway extension.
The first project on the docket is construction of two new bridges north of the runway for the soon-to-be rerouted railroad tracks, including a vehicle overpass at Industrial Highway and a bridge to take nearby CN tracks over existing Norfolk Southern tracks.
Work on the $7.6 million CN bridge is slated to begin July 4. The $22.9 million Industrial Highway overpass is scheduled to be completed in November 2012. The RDA is paying for construction of both bridges.
Altogether, the airport is on track to spend mostly federal and state funds over the next three years to reroute railroad tracks, extend the runway and improve infrastructure. When complete, the airport will have an 8,900-foot runway capable of handling nearly all passenger and freight planes.
Currently, CN railroad tracks pass near the end of the existing runway. To comply with a Federal Aviation Administration mandate of a 1,000-foot runway safety zone, the tracks must be moved and the runway extended, Landry said.
The Grand Calumet River flows at the other end of the runway, making an extension in that direction impossible.
The airport must complete the railroad relocation and runway extension projects by December 2013 under an FAA order. Landry said those projects are fully funded.
But that deadline has pushed plans to redirect or remove other rail lines that pass near the airport into "Phase II" of the project. The airport still needs $32.3 million in additional funds to pay for that work.
RDA Chairman Leigh Morris said the economic development agency expects its investment in the airport will "enable it to be the economic engine for this region that we know it can be."