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Kadner: Quinn vows to make airport happen

Gov. PQuinn says he decided months ago put Illinois Department Transportaticharge South Suburban Airport. | File photo

Gov. Pat Quinn says he decided months ago to put the Illinois Department of Transportation in charge of the South Suburban Airport. | File photo

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Updated: July 7, 2013 12:48PM



A joyful Gov. Pat Quinn said his slogan for a new state-controlled airport is “Where job creation takes flight” and announced that it officially will be called the South Suburban Airport.

“We’re going to make this happen,” the governor boasted.

During a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Quinn said the “stars aligned” last week to pass breakthrough legislation that gives the Illinois Department of Transportation governing authority to create a pubic-private partnership to build and operate what used to be known as the Peotone or Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

Quinn said he made it clear months ago to warring political leaders in South Cook and Will counties that he was going to put IDOT in control of the airport’s future.

A huge economic development bill put together in the last week of the legislative session “that affected every part of the state” provided the catalyst for his plan. Quinn said he made it clear to lawmakers that “I would not sign” the bill unless the airport was part of that initiative.

“It really began to take shape about four months ago during a meeting with Will County Executive Larry Walsh” the governor said of his strategy.

“I took him to lunch and told him IDOT had to break the gridlock,” Quinn said, noting that Will County officials and mayors of towns in Cook County near the airport had been battling for nearly a decade over airport governance.

Quinn said he then met in Springfield with those Southland mayors, made it clear that the airport “has been a top priority” of his and asked them “to keep an open mind” about governance.

“I told them that IDOT had to take charge,” he said.

He also met individually with legislators from the area, including state Sens. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) and Pat McGuire (D-Joliet), state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and two freshmen lawmakers, Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Hills) and Rep. Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor). Quinn said he told everyone, “this is our chance to do it. Let’s get it done.

“Everyone was in agreement they wanted the airport built,” he said. “This is the largest economic development project in the state.

“Hallelujah!” Quinn exalted, noting that everything “fell together” to pass the airport legislation.

“I told Sen. Harris that he’s been down here only four months and helped accomplish something I’ve been trying to get done for four years,” Quinn said.

Opponents of the airport have contended that it would become a white elephant, citing the inability of Gary-Chicago Airport and MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., to attract passenger airlines.

“This is one of the largest states in the country,” Quinn said. “The third-largest municipal region. New York City has three major airports, Los Angeles has three, four or five. The Chicago metropolitan area can support three airports.

“This airport is not only going to serve southern Cook County and Will counties, but Kankakee and downstate Illinois; cities like Champaign, Urbana and Bloomington, where some of the brightest minds in our state live and need access to an airport for travel.

“This airport will attract cargo flights because of the giant intermodal facility along I-80. But I believe it will also attract passenger traffic. Will County is the fastest-growing county in Illinois, and one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

“And the area (around the airport) has low-cost housing and people with a great Midwestern work ethic. They come to work on time every day and are willing to work hard. We’re going to have the Illiana (Expressway) connecting I-65 to I-57 and I-55.

“This is going to be where jobs take flight,” Quinn said for the second time.

I asked Quinn if the so-called “iron ring” communities surrounding the airport site, (Peotone, Beecher, Monee and Crete) would be allowed to form a development district outside the airport.

“We are certainly going to have meetings with them and talk to them. We’re going to keep the lines of communication open,” he said, stopping short of committing to a locally controlled development district.

That’s probably wise at this point because a private developer might want input into how the surrounding area would build out.

Quinn said he believes the Federal Aviation Administration will approve the airport and that he envisions a “clear path” when I asked him about the possibility that Chicago leaders might scuttle the project.

Quinn said he has talked to Ray LaHood, the U.S. transportation secretary and former congressman from Peoria, who agreed to advocate for the airport with the FAA.

Quinn vowed that the process of soliciting and reviewing private airport developers “throughout the world will be an open and transparent process” and that he hoped to have the request for information from developers done this year.

As for economic development, I asked Quinn why a gambling expansion bill failed to get out of the Legislature this year after it had passed the two previous years.

Quinn said he had reached agreement on “language I could live with” with state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), the chief House sponsor, and it was given to the Legislative Reference Bureau to be placed in the bill.

But the night the legislation was supposed to be written, Quinn said, “the LRB staff member got himself lost.” I asked what that meant, and Quinn repeated, “he got lost. He couldn’t be found.”

But he said that he had made it clear to legislators that he would not sign a gambling bill unless pension reform was passed.

It’s my opinion that the success or failure of the South Suburban Airport could eventually determine how Quinn is remembered.

The governor showed real leadership here. And that too should be remembered.



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