March 25, 2001 Daily Herald
It's the airlines that will decide whole third airport issue
Daily Herald Reports
Posted on March 25, 2001

By Jack Mabley

There is no reasonable solution to Chicago's (and our suburban) airport problem.

The only relief lies in alternatives to reduce the impact of the noise, air pollution and traffic gridlock caused by O'Hare.

Right now, we are at the mercy of the airlines. The "third" or relief airports will live or die on whether American or United or Delta or Southwest decides to use the alternate airports.

The metropolitan daily papers have finally discovered Gary/Chicago Airport.

The blaring front-page headline, "Daley plays Gary airport hand" is not news to readers of this column.

In 1999, Daley proclaimed Gary/Chicago as Chicago's third airport.

The airports at Rockford and Milwaukee are in the running for the title of third airport, but they are handicapped by distance from Chicago.

Their main hope for expansion is to attract passengers from North and Northwest suburbs. But if the airlines don't provide service, little will change.

The major battle pits Peotone against Gary/Chicago. There are pluses and negatives about both sites.

Gary's biggest advantage is its nearness to Chicago, and the fact that it already is operating. It has a detailed and feasible plan for expansion that will make it considerably larger than Midway. The cost will be less than $700 million..

The main negative about Gary/Chicago is a degree of conflict with Midway's landing patterns.

Backers of Peotone claim that O'Hare can't handle future traffic growth, and that a 24,000-acre, six-runway super airport is needed.

For starters Gov. Ryan has proposed a one-runway, 12-gate airport. The theory is that this would relieve O'Hare traffic.

But it is about 40 miles from the Loop. The Gary airport is a half-hour drive from the Loop in normal traffic, and the expressway to the Loop is at its gate.

And it is up and running and ready to expand.

The constant through all these pros and cons is the airlines. Will they or won't they? American and United have stated positively they will not help finance Peotone or land planes there if it is built. Maybe they would change.

I have had more reader response to this issue than anything I've written in years. The unanimity of opinion is surprising.

I have not had one letter, e-mail, voice mail, phone or personal conversation that was not critical of Peotone.

Urban dwellers for some reason have a sentimental attachment to rural areas and farms. Most responses are outraged at the prospect of tearing up and paving over tens of thousands of acres of prime farmland, evicting thousands of longtime farm and rural families, moving riverbeds, and basically bringing the worst of urbanization to 100 square miles of precious Illinois land.

I also get strong reaction to political insiders getting rich on contracts and fees and property values in hidden land trusts.

The Illinois Department of Transportation already has made a monumental goof in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate MidAmerica Airport near St. Louis.

They built MidAmerica and the airlines didn't come. It exists as a costly, useless monument to bad planning.

There's a good argument that Peotone would be another

MidAmerica.

There is so much money and power at stake in this battle that it is hard to predict the outcome.

Ryan is desperate to get an appropriation from the legislature to buy land and get under way.

Right now, Peotone's prospects are dismal. Mayor Scott King of Gary comments wryly: "What bugs the Peotone advocates more than anything is that we have a runway.

"They have a cornfield."

Actually, mayor, it's mostly soy beans.




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