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South Suburban Airport would be a first

Updated: September 29, 2013 6:51AM



If the South Suburban Airport is built as planned, it would be the first U.S. airport constructed from scratch through a public-private partnership, Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said Thursday.

Two weeks ago, the state hired a company to advise it on public-private partnerships as it heads into this uncharted territory, Schneider said.

“I think that is going to drive a lot of the decisions that need to be made as we go forward,” she said.

Schneider said such partnerships have built international airports and additions to U.S. airports, but no airport in the country has been initially built here through the arrangement.

Schneider made her comments during a two-hour meeting with Will County leaders and board members at the county office building in Joliet.

Lately, Schneider, who heads the state transportation department, has been busy fast-tracking two major projects — the one-runway, 5,800-acre inaugural airport near Peotone and the 47-mile Illiana Expressway, a tollway that would link Interstate 55 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.

During Tuesday’s session, Schneider said the state will give Will County more than the original $500,000 promised for land use planning in the path of the Illiana Expressway so such work could be done on the airport site as well.

“I think it’s important to give you the tools you need for land use planning and to make this project work,” she said.

County Executive Larry Walsh announced that he would create a group to work with Schneider and IDOT as the projects go forward.

The pledge by state and county officials to work together comes after some Will County officials were taken by surprise when legislation giving IDOT control of the airport passed in two days in the spring session of the Legislature. But the bill that zoomed through in late May also requires IDOT to work with local stakeholders.

Schneider said she plans to do that with monthly updates once the airport project gets rolling and also has asked her staff to prepare a stakeholder outreach schedule and plan.

Schneider also said IDOT is about to negotiate to buy Bult Airport — a privately owned, general aviation field within the proposed site of South Suburban Airport. The state had to hire special appraisers to get an estimate on the value of the small airport, she said.

Will County officials reiterated concerns Tuesday about a lack of property and sales tax revenue from the airport site. But Schneider said only the state sales tax would be waived for airport construction materials, with local sales taxes still collected.

The Illiana Expressway has hit a big road bump now that a staff analysis from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has criticized IDOT’s study of the tollway for what CMAP sees as faulty cost, job, economic impact and population estimates.

If CMAP’s board doesn’t vote Oct. 9 to add the tollway to its long-range Go To 2040 plan, the road cannot be built. Tuesday is the deadline to comment on the proposal to add the Illiana Expressway to Go To 2040.

Will County leaders have sent letters in favor of the tollway to CMAP, and the Will County Center for Economic Development has created a “Call to Action: Support the Illiana Expressway” drive to get others to write a letter or emails supporting the project.

Local and IDOT officials say the road would lessen truck congestion from the large intermodal centers in Joliet and Elwood. But CMAP officials seem to want the tollway to be farther north to lessen urban sprawl.



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