GARY — The Gary/Chicago International Airport is firing up its engines and moving forward on the taxiway as it continues getting closer to propelling Northwest Indiana's economy into the stratosphere.
That was the sentiment of federal, state and local officials Tuesday as they announced the Gary airport is receiving a $3.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to finish rehabilitating a critical approach to the main runway located near Lake Michigan, north of the Indiana Toll Road and east of Cline Avenue.
Specifically, the money will complete ongoing improvements to Taxiway Alpha by adding a 14-inch concrete overlay 75 feet wide and 350 feet long.
"Rehabilitation of our taxiways, and all paved surfaces, are critical to meet the needs of our current operations, and opens the door for new development opportunities and infrastructure improvements in the future," said Duane Hayden, airport executive director.
Tim Fesko, the governor-appointed chairman of the airport's board of directors, said replacing the current asphalt taxiway with concrete will extend the life of the pavement 20 years and reduce the airport's repair and maintenance costs over that period.
"I'm excited for the future of the Gary/Chicago International Airport," said Fesko, a Republican former state representative from Dyer.
"Projects such as these are vital to the overall viability of our Region as they provide opportunities to improve our local economy and provide well-paying jobs to local residents."
Both men, along with Gary Mayor Jerome Prince, credited U.S. Rep. Frank J. Mrvan, D-Highland, for his assistance in securing the federal grant for Gary, and in seeing the value of both short-term construction jobs at the airport and long-term economic opportunities.
"Today marks the continuation of the developments and enhancements that have gone on at this airport for quite some time," Prince said. "We are poised, from our perspective, to see this airport reach heights that we only could imagine some years ago."
In particular, Prince pointed to the main runway extension completed in 2015 that gave Gary the second-longest runway in all of Chicagoland, the 2018 opening of a customs facility that enables the airport to more efficiently handle international arrivals, as well as the recent construction of new terminals, hangars and other structures, including a cargo facility for UPS.
"Things like this don't just happen. Just as it takes teamwork to move aircraft into and out of this facility, it certainly takes true collaboration to realize events that are going to become economic drivers for Northwest Indiana," Prince said.
"And we believe that we're poised to return Gary as an economic driver for the Region as well."
Mrvan agreed with the Democratic mayor the grant is "proof that when you invest, and when you work in a collaborative effort between federal, state, local and private industries, great things can happen."
"Today is about new beginnings and showing the world that the Gary airport, and the city of Gary, is competing for your investment," Mrvan said.
The first-term congressman and former North Township trustee pointed to the largely vacant land surrounding the airport and declared it primed for investment by any logistics enterprise that might benefit from having nearby air, rail, water and highway links.
He said the federal government through this grant, along with the American Jobs Plan currently under consideration in Congress, is setting the table by investing in the infrastructure that will help the private sector create new opportunities and grow the economy.
"What we want to do is allow private business to do what they do best and create life-sustaining opportunities for individuals to relocate into the city of Gary, and for individuals who live here in the city of Gary to have sustainable incomes," Mrvan said.
"Let the world know that the Gary/Chicago International Airport is open and welcoming investment from anywhere we can get it."