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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:46AM



UNIVERSITY PARK — Private investment in the South Suburban Airport could help decrease the chances of it becoming a “white elephant,” an eastern Will County official said Wednesday.

“If private investment is involved, then the project will appear to be viable,” Beecher Village Manager Bob Barber said.

State transportation officials agree.

“If they’re going to invest, they’re going to do their due diligence to make sure it’s a good project,” said Roger Driskell, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s expert on public-private partnerships.

Private companies will only step forward to fund the project if they think it will make money and produce a profit, Driskell said during a meeting held Wednesday at Governors State University.

Dozens of officials from Will and southern Cook counties were invited to the meeting by state Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, who has set an aggressive pace for the airport and hopes ground will be broken on the project in 2015.

The meeting was designed as a first step to keep the process open, Schneider said.

“We want to have as much input as possible,” said Susan Shea, IDOT’s director of aeronautics.

After the meeting, Barber said he wanted more information about potential zoning conflicts that could erupt in and around the airport.

“It’s a big concern, and we’re still going to be pushing for our development district out here in eastern Will County,” he said.

IDOT officials said zoning conflicts in the airport footprint would be won by the state due to legislation passed in late May that also gave IDOT control of the project and the power to use a public-private partnership to build it.

During the meeting, attendees also learned:

About 2,420 of the 5,800 acres needed for the inaugural airport footprint have been purchased.

All of the master plan chapters have been submitted to the FAA for approval.

Four chapters have been OK’d, but five remain under review.

The FAA has said that an air traffic control tower is warranted for the site from “day one” due to cargo, general aviation and passenger forecasts. IDOT plans to partner with area educational institutions for airport job training. And the state will encourage participation by disadvantaged businesses.

State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Joliet, said the meeting at Governors State shows that IDOT is serious about transparency, “and that’s going to continue.”

State Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, said the meeting was a good first step but more are needed for the complex airport issues. And State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said he was pleased with what he heard.

“I like the emphasis on transparency,” he said. “I like the emphasis on minimizing taxpayer risk up front. And I like the emphasis on working with area educational institutions to train local residents for jobs at the airport.”



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