EDITORIAL: Pick up pace on airport progress

2013-12-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Pick up pace on airport progress nwitimes.com
December 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Progress at Gary/Chicago International Airport must pick up speed.

This project has dragged on way too long as it is. The original estimated completion date has come and gone, long ago.

That's not to say there hasn't been progress. Already, concrete has been poured for much of the runway extension.

Dealing with the railroads, though, takes a special kind of patience. Even with the taxpayers footing the bill for a new set of train tracks, two of the three railroads refuse to budge.

Canadian National and the utilities running pipelines under the railroad's tracks have some indemnity issues to work to protect each other against damage.

Norfolk Southern has to get trackage rights from CSX to use refurbished — at airport expense — tracks CSX hasn't used in years. 

Those protracted talks are costing the airport — and thus taxpayers — money and holding up progress.

As of August 2012, the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority had already paid $772,875 to Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP, a law firm based in Washington, D.C., to negotiate agreements with the railroads.

In May, the firm's attorneys said they couldn't provide a timeline for the two final agreements necessary.

So now a second legal team -- Hardwick Law Firm, of Chicago -- is to be retained to try to get the railroads moving.

More than two years ago, the airport authority and the three railroads signed a memorandum of understanding that was much ballyhooed because it signaled the project could finally go forward.

Any reasonable person might expect a memorandum of understanding to indicate railroads understand the need for speed on this project. So the section of runway beyond the railroad embankment was the logical place to start. That way, the tracks bisecting the runway extension wouldn't hold up the project.

It was a good idea. But now the new concrete must be covered with a blue tarp so pilots don't get confused and overlook the railroad embankment.

Pressure must be put on the remaining two railroads to get out of the way of this project. And if it takes an act of Congress to make that happen, crank up the legislative machinery.

The runway extension is a $166 million project whose main goal is not just to accommodate larger planes and heavier fuel loads for distant airports, but also to improve safety.

Without the railroad embankment removed, the FAA will be forced to shorten the runway to provide a larger margin of safety. That would be devastating for the airport.

Increase the pressure on the railroads to give final approval -- finally -- to the necessary agreements so the existing tracks can be ripped out and the runway extension completed.

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