Despite frigid winter temperatures, contractors working on the rail relocation and runway expansion project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport are 90% done removing the old railroad tracks and earthen berm that have blocked the runway expansion for more more than a decade.
Once the removal is complete, the new section of the runway can be connected to the existing runway. The longer, completed runway will allow the airport to accommodate planes of any size and to maintain its viability as Chicago’s third airport.
The expansion project is a collaborative effort funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the State of Indiana and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the City of Gary.
“With completion of the runway and relocation of the railroad tracks, the Gary/Chicago International Airport is poised to contribute significantly to the regional economy,” RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said at an October event marking the start of demolition work on the old tracks. “The expansion is expected to create more than 2,000 new jobs in Northwest Indiana by 2025, which will generate an estimated $156 million in personal income annually and have an overall yearly economic impact of more than $420 million.”
Legislation being considered by the Indiana House would continue to provide state support to the Regional Development Authority (RDA) for expansion of commuter rail in Northwest Indiana.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, this week filed House Bill 1618 creating a matching state grant program to provide $9.4 million annually through 2045 to help pay the local share required to obtain the federal funds needed to run the train to Dyer.
The legislation, co-sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, codifies the RDA’s promise to spend $8 million a year for the expansion project and another $4 million on operating costs by obligating the agency to annually pay at least $9.4 million of its revenue for the South Shore in order to receive the same amount in state funds.
We are grateful for the foresight and support of Reps. Slager and Soliday, as well as that of the rest of the Northwest Indiana House and Senate delegations. Commuter rail expansion is critical to job and economic growth in the region.
Over the past year and a half, the RDA has committed to support commuter rail expansion, more than a dozen local communities have agreed to pitch in funds and the General Assembly has dedicated a revenue stream to establish an operating fund for the new West Lake Corridor. This year’s legislation represents the final piece of the puzzle.
For more on the importance of commuter rail in Northwest Indiana, check out RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna’s appearance this week on Inside Indiana Business.