WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — The Porter County Council agreed last week to contribute $317,197 in hospital sale interest money toward the reconstruction of the main runway at the Porter County Regional Airport.
While a large sum, the true value of the money is its linchpin role in securing the balance of the funding for the massive $11.3 million project.
The Federal Aviation Administration is contributing 90 percent of the money, the state is picking up 5 percent and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority agreed to provide half of the remaining 5 percent as long as the county comes up with the other half, Porter County Municipal Airport Authority President Paul Chael told the council.
He stressed the money is not being used as an expansion, but rather to rebuild the runway already in place.
The east-west runway, which is the largest of the two at the site at the northeast corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 30, was built in 1966 and has since undergone two renovations, Airport Director Kyle Kuebler said.
The times between the repairs is getting shorter, he said, and damage and wear now amounts to 200,000 linear feet of cracks, he said. At a length of 7,000 feet and width of 150 feet, the runway is larger than any at Chicago Midway International Airport.
"It's really a transportation asset for the county," he said.
The airport is used regularly by local businesses and gives the county and region access to an important mode of transportation, Kuebler said.
The County Council approved the funding, as requested, out of the interest generated on the money made from the 2007 sale of the county hospital. Final approval of the request will be taken up March 15 by the Porter County Board of Commissioners.
County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, proposed taking the money from the county's share of the proceeds from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road.
He said the hospital interest money can be used for any use, but the Toll Road proceeds are limited in scope and this road-type work would qualify.
The runway is being rebuilt with a bituminous or blacktop material, Kuebler said.
Biggs agreed that coming up with the requested sum was worth securing the vast majority of the project cost elsewhere.
"It's kind of a no-brainer," he said.
The first phase of the runway project was completed last summer and involved rebuilding the intersection of the main runway and another smaller north-south runway, Kuebler said. That work required shutting down the airport for nine days.
The second and final phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and will close the main runway for 70 days, he said. That work will be followed by a separate project to wrap up work on taxiways.