Dec. 22--Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., is urging Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to approve $42 million in funding for lengthening the main runway and making other improvements at Gary/Chicago International Airport.
"With this funding, the airport will be able to attract more business and make crucial safety improvements, such as runway extensions, that will help prevent tragedies like the one at Midway Airport in Chicago," Bayh said.
The airport has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for a letter of intent to fund the improvement projects.
Airports that lack safety buffers at the end of runways are coming in for increased scrutiny following the Dec. 8 accident at Midway that killed Joshua Woods, 6, of Leroy.
In that incident, a Southwest Airlines plane skidded off the runway, plowed through a fence, and struck the car in which the Woods family was traveling.
There is only 82 feet of open area between the fence and the street. FAA standards call for 1,000-foot safety zones at the end of runways where planes could stop before encountering obstacles.
Gary/Chicago also currently lacks adequate safety zones at the ends of its main runway. At the northwest end, only 130 feet separates the end of the runway from the tracks of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway.
The $42 million in FAA funds would be supplemented by up to $47 million in other funding, including $7 million Bayh helped secure in the federal highway bill to relocate the railroad tracks.
The money also would be used to lengthen the runway to 9,000 feet from its current 7,000 feet.
In 2003, Bayh played a key role in ensuring that the FAA gave priority to Gary/Chicago's application.