Illinois Submits Plan for a Third Chicago Airport

Mon May 09, 2005 - Midwest Edition

CHICAGO (AP) The state gave federal aviation officials its blueprint for a small commercial airport in the far south suburbs, the most formal step yet toward development of a third Chicago-area airport that has been debated for a decade.

The plan calls for a single-runway, five-gate airport on 4,200 acres of farmland near Peotone, a small town 40 mi. south of downtown Chicago. State officials said the airport later could grow to four parallel runways and 12 gates.

Some federal and state officials have said a third airport is needed in the Chicago area to help alleviate congestion at O’Hare International Airport, which can snarl air traffic nationwide.

However, several regulatory hurdles still must be cleared with the Federal Aviation Administration before construction near Peotone could begin –– a process that would take years.

“Building a new airport means thousands of new jobs for the south suburbs and Will County,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to make that happen.”

The FAA will use the state’s blueprint to begin its environmental analysis of the plan, a process the state said should take about 18 months. That analysis would be subject to public hearings before the FAA makes a final decision on the overall plan, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

The development plan is based on a proposal from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who has championed the airfield as an economic engine for Chicago’s economically depressed south suburbs.

Jackson has a coalition of 32 southern Cook County and eastern Will County municipal officials that envisions an airport designed for discount carriers such as JetBlue Airways Corp. The group said the airport –– to be named Abraham Lincoln National Airport –– would create 15,000 new jobs.

Jackson touts the plan as the nation’s first privately funded airport. Last fall, developers LCOR Inc. of New York and Canada-based SNC-Lavalin agreed to finance, build and operate the airfield, promising $200 million for the first stage of development.

“This project comes at no cost to taxpayers,” Jackson said in a statement. “Chicago needs new aviation capacity and the [south suburbs] needs an economic anchor.”

The plan does not specify what entity would control the airport –– an issue that has been the subject of a simmering political battle. Jackson’s group is vying for control with Will County officials, who insist that they should control the new airport because it’s located in the county.

Illinois has been buying land for the airport since 2001. So far, it has spent $24.7 million to purchase nearly 1,900 acres.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has been pushing a $15 billion modernization plan for O’Hare to help alleviate air-traffic woes. His proposal calls for longer and wider runways and taxiways and new terminals, but it has yet to received FAA approval.