GARY — Two new travel lanes and a roundabout will help improve traffic flow into and out of Buffington Harbor, city and federal officials said at a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for a $10.4 million project on Buffington Harbor Drive, which runs from Cline Avenue to the lakeshore.
The road is currently a two-lane, undivided road providing access to Majestic Star Casino, Carmeuse Lime & Stone and other industrial operations at the lakeshore. This year's project would add two new lanes along a 1.3 mile stretch of the road, including to a bridge over freight rail tracks running through the harbor area.
The roundabout, less than a quarter mile from Cline, would serve to separate inbound traffic headed to the casino from traffic headed to the industrial site. Outbound casino and industrial traffic would recombine at the roundabout on their way to Cline.
Gary officials hope the expanded road will ultimately be guiding traffic through a fully industrial site. Tuesday's groundbreaking was held as the state Legislature continues to consider the possibility of moving Majestic Star from the lake to an inland site along Interstate 94, and freeing up Buffington Harbor for development Gary hopes would make it an intermodal shipping hub.
"For a town built on the steel industry and related manufacturing, this is really an opportunity to create a new industry," Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. "We would make better use of this land by returning it to its industrial use."
She pointed to plans announced late last year by the firm Fulcrum BioEnergy to invest in the harbor area as a harbinger of what might come.
The road project is being funded by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority with a $7.4 million grant, and by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration with a $3 million grant. Each committed funding to a road expansion project at Buffington Harbor in 2015, though the project's scope has changed since then.
Jeanette Tamayo, Chicago regional director for the EDA, said the agency's goal is "making investments in communities that had experienced long-term challenges."
"The role of the government is to facilitate and help to create the conditions for the private sector to thrive," she said.
Buffington Harbor Drive has seen several upgrades in the past decade, including addition of the ramp from Cline Avenue in 2010 and construction of the bridge over the freight rail tracks four years later.
Dunnett Bay Construction of Glendale Heights, Illinois, will do this year's project, with American Structurepoint of Highland serving as project manager. American Structurepoint Project Development Director Eric Wolverton said the contract calls for substantial completion in mid-October, with final work to be wrapped up by mid-November.