March 29, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

FAA eyes airport growth in Gary

March 29, 2001

BY KRISTI O'BRIEN

An aggressive 20-year expansion plan for the Gary-Chicago airport, which is currently under informal review by the Federal Aviation Administration, calls for extending both existing runways, doubling the size of the current terminal, adding a new terminal and improving ground transportation.

The preliminary draft, which the FAA has had for about two months for an informal review process, says the minimum expansion plans are built around a predicted 3.4 percent average annual increase in air travelers nationwide between now and 2020.

The plan could change following FAA review. However, Gary Mayor Scott King said that from what he has heard "second- or third-hand," the FAA has not made major changes to the plan.

The plan arises from the alliance Mayor Daley formed with Gary in 1995 to thwart Illinois Republicans from seizing control over Chicago's airports. The Gary airport is competing with a proposed site in Peotone as the Chicago area and the federal government search for a solution to relieve Chicago's crowded skies.

The preliminary draft--parts of which have been public for at least a year--lists several specific areas of expansion and development. Those include the airfield, passenger terminal, general aviation facilities for small, privately owned planes, roadway access and parking and public transportation. Expansion costs range from $390 million to $619 million.

The airport's longest runway, a 7,000-foot stretch that runs diagonally from the northwest to the southeast, would be extended to 8,900 feet. The runway is currently about 500 feet longer than Midway's longest runway.

The airport's other runway, a 3,603-foot stretch that bisects the long runway, would be extended to 7,000 feet, allowing it to take bigger planes, as well.

The plan also calls for the addition of three high-speed taxiways, which are slanted turns that allow planes to exit the runways at much higher speed.

The passenger terminal, which is being expanded to include three gates, would double in size under the proposal.

A new terminal on the northwest side of the airfield would be built in 10 to 20 years. The proposed new terminal building, which could be designed as a main terminal served by concourses, would be constructed in phases as demand for the facility increases.

Additionally, an underground people mover system might be installed to transport passengers between the main terminal and the two concourses.

Roads and parking also would be improved, by enhancing the intersection leading into the airport and adding a four-story, 43-foot-tall parking garage to accommodate around 2,700 vehicles. Long-term public parking and rental car facilities would be located near the Indiana Toll Road, which connects with the Chicago Skyway.

Existing roads and public transportation also would be improved.

The master plan draft is expected to win preliminary approval from the FAA within the next month.

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