Ryan ready to deal on Peotone

July 3, 2000

BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Gov. Ryan says he's willing to sit down with Mayor Daley and work out a deal that would bring a new runway to O'Hare Airport and pave the way for a new airfield in south suburban Peotone.

"If the mayor wants to discuss it, I'd be glad to discuss it with him," Ryan said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. the governor also repeated his desire that Daley agree to keep Meigs Field open beyond its projected 2002 closing.

"I think it's important to the state of Illinois, frankly, that it stay open. Flying into Meigs is a lot easier than flying into Midway. Timewise, transportationwise, it's just easier. And there's a lot of people that fly into Meigs. State government uses that airport a lot. Not just politicians, but the people who do business here.

"The mayor and Gov. [Jim] Edgar made an agreement back in 1997," he said. "I understand it's a pretty binding agreement. I would suppose if both the mayor and I would agree, it could be unbinding. But we haven't discussed it."

Ryan said he remains opposed to a new O'Hare runway, but would be willing to talk to Daley about a Peotone for O'Hare swap.

"That's never been brought up for discussion," Ryan said. "I never close the door if the mayor wants to talk about it. I'll be glad to talk about it."

Daley spokeswoman Jacqueline Heard insisted Sunday that the mayor's position on Peotone has been misconstrued.

"The mayor is not opposed to Peotone, contrary to popular belief," Heard said. "He has said that you need more than the mayor's approval for a third airport; you need support from the airlines for a third airport."

While Daley did not oppose Ryan's bid to set aside $75 million for land acquisition at Peotone, his name has been constantly associated with various behind-the-scenes moves aimed at blocking federal support for the project.

Transportation has been a centerpiece of Ryan's term. Most of the $12 billion Illinois FIRST public works program is pegged for transportation-related projects.

A supporter of GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush, Ryan said he hasn't yet discussed Peotone with the candidate. But the governor said he thinks it would be a smart political move for Bush to back the airport proposal, given the support by suburban Republicans.

Heard said Daley is not likely to change his mind about closing Meigs.

"The mayor has said that Meigs should be a park for the people, and he is not wavering on that," Heard said.

Ryan's predecessor Jim Edgar and his Republican legislative allies waged an intense battle with Daley over Meigs when the mayor sought to close the tiny lakefront airport. Eventually, they worked out a compromise to keep it open until February 2002.

On other transportation issues, Ryan said:

* A Route 53 extension into Lake County, a contentious project now being studied by the state and tollway, is "probably needed." Ryan said the proposed extension is tricky because of environmental and "quality of life concerns."

* Chicago's plan to link O'Hare and Midway airports by high-speed rail is "a good idea," and the governor predicted a congestion-relieving western access at O'Hare eventually will happen. Many suburban residents fear a western access would increase traffic and provide an excuse for a new O'Hare runway. However, Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens has told Ryan that a western access is needed now, and he has been quietly lobbying for it.

* Extending the CTA's Blue Line to the northwest suburbs is the most preferable alternative under review for easing traffic congestion. Other options include carpool lanes and dedicated bus lanes.

"Rail, I think, is probably the best alternative if you've got to have one," he said, echoing the thoughts of Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson and CTA President Frank Kruesi. "It's cleaner, it moves more people, faster, runs on track, they're off the highway, doesn't cause congestion."

Contributing: Susan Dodge