Saturday, May 4, 2019

Third Airport talk resurrected, but are we any closer to it actually being built

In the three-plus decades that I’ve covered news events in and around Chicago, there’s one story that seems to have lingered on beyond belief – a “third airport” for the metropolitan area.
Will this site ever become an airport?
It was a concept that was going through the process being planned and someday built, with the idea being that the first flights would be departing the new airport just prior to the beginning of 21st Century – and would be expanded to full capacity probably about a decade ago.

THE LAST TIME I was out in the cornfields of Will County just south of Peotone, there was nothing resembling any of this having occurred. In fact, we’re really no closer now than we were back in the early 1990s to having another airport to relieve the congestion that exists at O’Hare International and Midway airports.

Which is why I find it humorous to learn that Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., signed off on a letter, along with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and several Congressmen, state legislators and mayors/village presidents from across the southern part of the Chicago area.

All of those political people are asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to put $150 million in the next state budget to pay for improvements that would need to be made to the rural Will County site that has oft been considered for an airport.
Kelly tries to resurrect project … 

As in road repairs and utility connections leading to the site, along with an interchange on Interstate 57 that would make it possible for people to access the site – rather than whiz on by as they drive south to Kankakee or (a little further) Champaign-Urbana.

ALL OF WHICH is stuff that should have been decades ago if our officials were the least bit serious about developing a new airport for the Chicago area.

Instead, this is a project that has been perennially bogged down in partisan politics – with some people thinking that building any sort of project that would encourage economic development at the far south end of the Chicago area being a complete waste of time.

There’s nothing there, they argue. Why try to develop anything there?
… that Rauner tried to kill off for good

Of course, part of the problem is that supporters look at an airport project solely in terms of what can they gain from it. Not from any aviation perspective or whether it makes any sense to do an airport there.

IT’S ALMOST LIKE they’re following the logic of “Field of Dreams.” Remember? “It you build it, he will come.”

Although instead of the ghost of one-time White Sox superstar Joe Jackson, it would be jobs. And possibly the development of nearby towns such as Peotone, Beecher or Monee (with a combined population of 13,000) into municipalities of significance -- rather than rural burgs on the fringe of Chicago.

Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Some think this site will be as under-utilized … 

For we went through four years of Bruce Rauner as governor, who always made it clear he didn’t want to be bothered with this project. Meaning that all the work former Gov. Pat Quinn tried to accomplish on the project was laid to waste.

NOT ALL THAT different from the ways that President Donald Trump has tried to undo anything and everything that had predecessor Barack Obama’s name attached to it. Would throwing money at the airport project enable it to return to life? Or has it lingered too long to survive?

The issue I wonder about is whether the need for a third airport for the Chicago area still exists the way it did back in the 1980s. As Kelly points out in her letter, United and American airlines coped with the crowded conditions of Chicago airports by moving their domestic hubs from O’Hare to airports in Denver and Dallas.

While O’Hare has dropped from the 12st busiest cargo airport to number 21. Maybe we could have kept these previous rankings if we had acted a few decades ago – instead of letting our partisan politicking take over.
… as the airport near Mascoutah

It may be too late, and we could be in danger of developing something along the lines of the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill. – which for many years sat unused and got tabbed as the “Gateway to Nowhere.” I’m sure some are eager to tag similar label to any Peotone-related project.


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