Wednesday, October 2, 2013

There are times when far southern side can’t seem to catch development break

When political people talk about possible improvement to the city’s far South Side and its surrounding suburbs, there are a trio of projects they bring up.

Port known more for out-of-date sign than its assets
A new airport to be built in the farm fields north of Peotone, development of a new toll highway connecting Indiana to Illinois further south than the existing I-80/94 connection, and the improvement of the Port of Chicago down near Lake Calumet.

BUT JUST WHERE are those projects actually headed?

The airport has been a decades-long battle that should have been resolved some 20 years ago. Whether it can ever achieve its potential may well have been undermined by the endless delays – many of which are caused by rural interests that want to pen in the spread of metro Chicago further south.

The tollway (known as the Illiana Expressway) is meant to connect Lowell, Ind., to Wilmington, Ill. It is meant to make it easier for people to cross over the state line by an interstate highway WITHOUT having to travel all the way north to Gary before turning west.

But the same people who can't stand the idea of the Chicago-area spreading far southeast into Will County combined with the ones who view the Illinois/Indiana border as a barricade – which is what led the Chicago Metropolitan Area Planning entity to officially exclude Illiana from its long-term plans.

AND NOW, WE’RE getting the reports about the one city-based project on this southern Chicago wish-list – the Port of Chicago had potential to be turned over to a private company that supposedly could have revitalized all the shipping of goods that involves the area around Lake Calumet.

Will any of these Illiana routes, ...
Except that the Colorado-based company is now saying it is ending negotiations without reaching a deal. Which means the money that would have been spent to upgrade the port to make the improvements necessary isn’t going to be spent.

The port (which those of you who ever venture far enough south to travel on the Bishop Ford Freeway probably drive right past without ever noticing it, except for the fact that it took them years before they removed Rod Blagojevich’s name as governor from their sign) likely will languish in its current state.

... or this airport, ever become reality?
Which is to say a port that gets underutilized, even though it is the port that connects Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway and to the Gulf of Mexico through the rivers that lead to the Illinois River, which flows to the Mississippi River.

IT IS PART of the network of assets that make Chicago a national transportation hub – and is the reason why Chicago gets compared to New York or Los Angeles, rather than Milwaukee, St. Louis or Indianapolis.

Yet perhaps it is the fact that all these potential assets (from airport to expressway to sea port) are located south (in most cases as far south as one can go and still think they’re in the Chicago area) that causes them to get the shaft – so to speak. It reminds me of a moment some 25 years ago when I was told by a developer-type person that planning a new airport to the south was a waste of time and resources, because the only people and growth that mattered was taking place to the north of Chicago.

At least in the case of the airport, Illinois state government is in the process of purchasing land – which causes the airport opponents to send out pictures of homes to be destroyed, with caustic messages about what a waste it is to eliminate housing for something they don’t want to see built!

It creates a perception of wondering how many more decades will have to pass before something can be built – and will the aviation landscape change so dramatically that a new Chicago-area airport won’t be as essential?

MEANWHILE, THE SOUTHERN Chicago economy that is counting so heavily on these projects for a jolt not only of jobs but the perception that something of significance is located there continues to lag.

Which ought to be something our government officials ought to be concerned about – except that they’re more worked up over partisan maneuvers that they think can be used to ding their opponents.

The mouth of Lake Calumet gives the Port its ultimate access to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda
There are times I wonder if the endless delays over resolving the funding mechanisms for government-overseen pension programs is because someone wants their opponent to get the blame? All of these failures has me wondering how the list of projects (airport, expressway, port) will have to be amended whenever political people talk about the potential for southern Chicago.

It might be government’s ultimate indictment if nothing on that list of potential achievements becomes reality!


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