April 12, 2001 Chicago Tribune

Tribune staff reporter
April 12, 2001

Northwest Indiana officials are putting on a full-court press to have Gary's airport named the Chicago area's third airport over south suburban Peotone.

Gary Mayor Scott King, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and northwest Indiana civic and political leaders met in Washington, D.C., earlier this week to try to put together a lobbying effort.

The first goal is to obtain Federal Aviation Administration approval of a $750 million expansion plan that would enable the Gary airport to accommodate about 30 million passengers and 300,000 flights a year.

Under the plan, the two runways would be lengthened to 8,900 feet from 7,000 feet, a building with new aircraft gates would be constructed, and another runway and a new passenger terminal would be built.

A decision on the plan, which has the support of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, is expected before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Gary-Chicago Airport officials are in talks with about a dozen airlines on offering commercial service to the airfield, said airport Administrator Paul Karas.

Pan American Airways is the only commercial airline serving the airport, but other airlines have expressed interest, Karas said.

"The airlines are absolutely, positively opposed to Peotone," he said. "They don't want to go there. Their response to the Gary airport, on the other hand, has been positive."

The Gary airport makes good economic, transportation and environmental sense, Karas said.

But Peotone supporters are working hard as well.

Gov. George Ryan, Peotone's principal backer, is already in the process of acquiring land. The state's acquisition efforts began April 4 when it started accepting applications from landowners within the airport's initial 4,200-acre site who are prepared to sell their land to the state.

To date, the state has received more than 30 applications, said a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation. The agency hopes to complete those acquisitions by June 30.

State transportation officials and south suburban leaders who have banded together to lobby for the Peotone site are awaiting the results of an FAA environmental study to be completed early next year.

They also are awaiting a decision by the U.S. transportation secretary on whether to restore the Peotone plan to the federal list of airport projects eligible for federal funding.

And south suburban officials who lobbied for the Peotone project earlier this year plan to return to Washington May 10.

Peotone backers contend that the Gary airport lacks sufficient space to accommodate a large number of daily flights. Also, they say, it has environmental problems and expansion would be too costly.

[Chicago ATC News]