Gary/Chicago International Airport is much closer to getting its runway expansion project off the ground, now that the airport finally has an agreement on moving railroad tracks from the edge of the runway.
It is a welcome sign. Much hinges on the ability to move those tracks.
The tracks are only 130 feet from the northwest end of the airport's main runway. Moving the tracks enables the airport to extend the runway to 8,900 feet long, from its current 7,000 feet.
It has taken years to reach this agreement with the railroads, so it was a historic occasion last week when Canadian National Railway Co. signed an agreement authorizing the tracks to be moved.
The failure to reach agreement on the railroad relocation project was the single biggest obstacle to the start of construction for the runway expansion project. Now that it is no longer blocking the expansion, airport officials expect to see dirt being moved next spring.
The airport expansion is a major economic development opportunity. Once the expansion is complete, the airport will be better positioned for both passenger and cargo service as Chicago's third major airport.
Passenger service would be convenient to air travelers from the south Loop to southwest Michigan, but the freight service is where the job creation engine lies.
Northwest Indiana's geography calls for this area to be a freight capital of the Midwest. The Port of Indiana can bring cargo from all over the world through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Rail lines and expressways from the East Coast to Chicago must pass through Northwest Indiana to get to Chicago.
Transfer that freight from one mode of transportation to another, and local jobs are created. Gary/Chicago International Airport should provide the ability to better serve the Chicago area's freight needs -- and thus Northwest Indiana's economic development needs.
The railroad relocation agreement finally puts this airport expansion on the fast track.
This project has dragged on for way too long. Put it in overdrive so the results can finally be achieved.