Kadner: Quinn behind move on third airport
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org May 30, 2013 8:16PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to reporters in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Springfield Ill. Quinn says he's "open minded" to legalizing marijuana for people with serious illnesses. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: July 2, 2013 7:51AM
After 40 years of double dealing, backstabbing, bickering, inertia and gross negligence, it looks like a south suburban airport might actually get built.
Gov. Pat Quinn apparently has brokered a deal that would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to become the development authority for the planned airport near Peotone.
The legislation authorizing IDOT to form a public-private partnership to build the third airport, introduced in the Illinois House on Thursday, contains pork barrel projects for nearly ever section of Illinois.
For Chicago, there’s authority for expanded development around McCormick Place, including a basketball arena; a fertilizer plant for downstate lawmakers; a Brownfield Development Authority in the south suburbs; and more in the bill.
The key is whether Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has said he opposes the south suburban airport, will accept the McCormick Place deal or reject it.
But the chief sponsors of the legislation are Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s floor leader. So the measure has some heavy-duty support.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) and state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) are co-sponsors and played key roles in forming the coalition behind the bill.
“About three or four weeks ago, the governor called us in for a meeting and said it’s time to get this done,” said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.
Paesel said several mayors from the organization were involved in that meeting and realized that Quinn felt the “time is now.” Hutchinson used the same words in describing how the bill came together in the waning days of the current legislative session.
The language of the amendment to Senate Bill 20 wasn’t made public until Thursday afternoon, with one day left in the session.
Cindy Wojdyla Cain, a reporter for The Herald-News, a sister paper, first broke the story Wednesday about the initiative to have IDOT take over the airport.
“Some people have told me this is happening too fast,” Hutchinson said during a phone conversation from Springfield. “It’s been 40 years in the making. I don’t call that fast. That’s how long people have been talking about an airport in the south suburbs.”
She said she has met with officials from Will County and the communities surrounding the proposed airport site.
“While I can’t say they were all in complete agreement on every detail, they understood that if anything is ever going to happen the time is now,” Hutchinson said. “The key to this bill is that there’s something in it for every segment of the state, and that’s how we can get support for the south suburban airport.
“I understand everybody has some concerns. But we can’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. We have the Illiana Expressway coming, we have the (Will County) intermodal facilities, Governors State University is building dorms for its students. We need this (airport) to be the economic engine of the future that brings everything together.
“I want my children to remain in the south suburbs when they grow up because there are good jobs, good schools, opportunities for growth and that’s what this is all about.”
Hutchinson credited former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for keeping the airport plan alive.
“If he hadn’t worked all those years keeping this project alive, it would have been dead by now,” she said. “There’s no doubt about that. Congressman Jackson deserves the credit for giving us this opportunity today.”
The concept of a south suburban airport was actually born in the 1970s when the Federal Aviation Administration predicted that O’Hare International Airport would reach capacity in the 21st century.
A tri-state commission representing Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois eventually chose the property near Peotone as the best site for an airport that initially was supposed to be twice the size of O’Hare.
But officials in Chicago, seeing the proposed airport as a threat to O’Hare and Midway airports, which provided both revenue and patronage jobs to the city, used their political clout to repeatedly derail the project over the years.
When former Mayor Richard M. Daley thought former Gov. Jim Edgar was going to grab control of the airport for the state, he formed a partnership with Gary — creating a Gary-Chicago Airport to transfer passenger user fees from Illinois to Indiana to prevent those funds from being used to develop a third airport.
“For years, the state has been buying land out there, and the people who live in the airport footprint have been living in limbo, not knowing what was going to happen,” Hutchinson said. “We owe it to them to end this stalemate.”
Over the past 10 years, infighting has erupted among a group of Cook County suburbs put together by Jackson, Will County officials and the mayors of towns around the airport site over who would control the construction and operation of the airport.
Ironically, they all argued for “local control,” which would now go to the state under the proposed legislation.
“There would be a local voice,” Davis said. “The state Legislature controls IDOT, and we are elected to represent our communities, so there would be a local voice.”
He said that if the bill passes, he still believes there might be opportunities for local communities to form an airport development authority.
Of course, although Democrats control everything in Springfield, they seem able to agree on little these days.
“I want to be cautiously optimistic,” Hutchinson said. “I am certainly excited. But until there’s a vote, you can’t predict what is going to happen down here.”
I have repeatedly called for Quinn to take a leadership role on the airport development.
It’s a shame the south suburbs couldn’t come together on their own to form an airport governing authority. They had their chance.
It’s time to build the damn thing.