Strange bedfellows: Competing airports hire same planning firm

September 9, 2010

Gary, Indiana wants to become Chicago's third major airport. So, what does it do? It hires the same firm working on its direct competitor in Peotone, Ill. As big steps go at the struggling Gary Chicago International Airport, one of the biggest is selecting a program manager to finish up an expansion project that's been a decade in the planning. The airport authority's board considered three companies to do the work. Late last month it selected the firm AECOM. Based in Los Angeles, AECOM has a long track record as a global provider of technical and management support services, including dealing ‚ with railroad firms. Locally, AECOM representatives are working with several railroad companies, including Canadian National (CN), ‚ according to members of the airport authority's board. The goal is to remove a train embankment that's blocking the extension of the Gary airport's primary runway. ‚ So far, a deal with CN to do just that hasn't been reached, although officials say an agreement is close at hand. "They're going to be involved tenaciously in getting that railroad down. That's the biggest issue at the airport," says Gary, Indiana Mayor Rudy Clay. Still, Clay and other officials are hopeful that AECOM can improve the airport's stature and profile. Over the last decade Gary airport has only had sporadic passenger airline service. The airport has no such service now but even when it did, none of the companies was a major airline; instead, they were start-up operations such as SkyValue, Skybus and Hooters Air. Officials say extending the airport's primary runway should open the door for major airlines to locate in Gary. But AECOM ‚ is moonlighting in the Chicago airport business and it's doing so in a major way. The company is currently involved in O'Hare International Airport's modernization project but, ironically, AECOM is also involved with the proposal to build a third Chicago airport in Peotone, about 50 miles south of Chicago in Will County. Many people view Peotone as the main threat to Gary being considered Chicago's third major airport. Gary airport backers, like Mayor Clay, downplay the competition with Peotone.‚ "I think right now that Gary is the third airport cause whenever there is bad weather, the planes land in Gary, United (airlines) and all of them," Clay said. "We just need to continue pushing for the freight, cargo and passenger service. As far as Peotone, we don't pay too much attention to that. We just keep going like we're going here." Clay doesn't believe AECOM's involvement in the Peotone project creates a conflict . "This is a major international firm. They can do Peotone, Newark, New Jersey, London, England or wherever," Clay said. "They have a team that's going to be working close to make Gary work. So, we don't have a problem with that at all." Clay has sent a deadline of 2013 for the main runway to be extended.
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