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Kadner: Quinn to sign South Suburban Airport bill

The South Suburban Airport’s master plan will be put inactiwhen Gov. PQuinn signs legislatigiving Illinois Department Transportatiauthority build airport.

The South Suburban Airport’s master plan will be put into action when Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation giving the Illinois Department of Transportation authority to build the airport. | File photo

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Updated: August 26, 2013 4:08PM



Gov. Pat Quinn will end more than 30 years of regional political warfare Thursday by signing legislation giving the Illinois Department of Transportation the power to build the South Suburban Airport.

The bill-signing ceremony is set for 10:30 a.m. at Governors State University in University Park. The bill gives IDOT the authority to form a public-private partnership to build the airport.

Communities in Will and Cook counties had fought over control of the project for a decade, with former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. at the center of much of the controversy after he formed the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, which ultimately became the model for the state’s plan.

Quinn managed to break through the stalemate between Will and Cook counties by including the airport measure in an economic development package that contained something for nearly every section of Illinois.

Senate Bill 20 not only included the airport authorization legislation, but allows construction of an arena near McCormick Place for DePaul University sporting events and for small- and medium-size conventions.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had lobbied aggressively for the sports arena.

The bill also amends the property tax code so farmland property taxes are based on the income potential for the individual piece of farmland, rather than on a statewide average productivity of all farmland.

It also allows new or expanded fertilizer plants to be eligible for state job-creation incentives, with a minimum of 125 jobs created.

And, finally, it assists with the development of the Port of East St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

In his statement Thursday, obtained in advance by the SouthtownStar, Quinn states, “From day one, I have fought to make the South Suburban Airport a reality in Will County. Today, I am happy to say that our hard work and commitment to getting the job done has paid off.

“Now we can move forward with the development of this major economic engine that will strengthen our status as the transportation hub of the nation while creating thousands of good-paying jobs in Illinois.”

The governor estimates that the project will ultimately employ more than 11,000 construction workers to build the airport and 14,000 people when operational.

But the state must first get Federal Aviation Administration approval for its airport master plan.

Quinn states he recently talked with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to ask the FAA to expedite review and hopes to receive approval in a few months.

IDOT at some point also must request bids from private developers to build and operate the airport.

Illinois has invested $40 million to date on acquiring 5,800 acres of land for the airport.

The state’s 2014 budget includes $71 million needed to complete land acquisition for the inaugural footprint.

Eventually, the airport will encompass 20,000 acres, including land necessary for access roads and noise abatement, according to the governor’s statement.

The FAA identified a need for a third Chicago airport more than 30 years ago.

A tristate commission from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin was formed to select the best site, and an area near Peotone in Will County was selected.

The airport, as initially envisioned, was to be twice the size of O’Hare International Airport.

By 1990, with congestion and flight delays increasing at O’Hare, the FAA had listed the South Suburban Airport as one of its top priorities.

But suddenly and without an announcement, the project was removed entirely from the FAA’s list of future projects.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, around the same time, announced his own plan to build the Lake Calumet Airport on the Southeast Side of the city.

Eventually, the FAA said the South Suburban Airport was put on the back burner because it lacked “a regional consensus.”

After being asked repeatedly if the FAA had ever before required a regional consensus for airport construction, an agency spokesman finally answered, “No.”

Congressman Jackson became convinced that Bill Daley, the mayor’s brother, current gubernatorial candidate and commerce secretary in the Clinton administration at the time, had scuttled the project.

Eventually, Daley dropped his Lake Calumet airport plan and every federal dollar available for airport construction was committed to O’Hare Airport expansion.

It was Jackson’s initiative alone that kept the third airport project alive, as he advocated for a public-private partnership to build an airport and formed an airport commission composed of south suburban communities to spearhead its development.

Will County and so-called Iron Ring communities surrounding the airport site (Crete, Peotone, Beecher and Monee) opposed Jackson’s commission, creating a new reason for the state and FAA to stall the project.

In the end, none of the local communities that fought for control will have any authority over who builds the airport or likely benefit directly from the revenues it will produce.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) was the chief sponsor of SB 20, which received key support in the House from Reps. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields).

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Matteson), who replaced Jackson in Congress, has announced her support for the project and is expected to attend the bill signing Thursday.

Without Quinn’s leadership, the airport project would likely have died.

But it will never be what the FAA envisioned in the 1970s: the world’s largest airport.

It’s almost impossible to imagine what impact such a project would have had on the economy of the Southland, which has some of the poorest communities in Illinois and some of the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates.

Instead, tens of millions of dollars are being spent on O’Hare expansion, which ultimately will do nothing to improve air traffic nationwide.

No one on Thursday will take responsibility for that.



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