GARY — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., inspected ongoing improvements at the Gary/Chicago International Airport during a Tuesday afternoon tour, part of a six-day trip around the state kicking off the senator's 2018 re-election campaign.
Donnelly visited both of the airport's fixed-base operators, Gary Jet Center and B. Coleman Aviation, which are in the midst of major construction projects. Airport officials also pointed out the building planned to house a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, and noted upcoming runway rehabilitation work and the current reconstruction of Airport Road.
"I'm really excited about the continued progress," Donnelly said. "The momentum we hoped for is coming true."
Gary Jet Center is building a new corporate flight center, which will include pilots' lounges, a business center, a conference room and kitchen facilities. B. Coleman is building a new hangar and hopes to expand further. The FBOs provide aviation-related services to the general aviation community.
During the years-long project to extend the airport's main runway, Donnelly helped facilitate agreements among the airport, CSX and Canadian National railroads and federal regulators to move tracks that blocked the extension.
"It's always good to show someone who's been so helpful the progress you've made," said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who arrived at the airport with several other local officials in the Donnelly campaign RV. "You've already seen the growth and it'll continue to grow."
Donnelly's tour had stopped in Chesterton earlier Tuesday, where he met with United Steelworkers leaders. Donnelly said they talked about employment-related issues, including their opposition to a proposal to introduce "comp time" into the overtime compensation system, and about international trade issues.
"We want to make sure steelworkers and steel companies get a fair shake in international trade," he said.
Donnelly also said he's working with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, to maintain federal grant programs that aid transit projects like the South Shore Line's extension and upgrades, which contribute to urban revitalization programs. The transit Capital Improvement Grants and local Community Development Block Grants "are critical to our communities' growth," he said.
Donnelly is seeking his second term in the Senate. He was previously elected three times to the House of Representatives, representing the South Bend area.
U.S. Reps. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, and Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, are among the Republicans campaigning for their party's nomination. The GOP battle is already heating up, and the general election campaign is expected to be intense.
"The most important part of this — best campaign — is to do the job the best you can," Donnelly said.