Proposed Chicago south suburban airport
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A major airport has been proposed to be built in Peotone, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. There is no official name and two separate plans exist, one known as the "South Suburban Airport" and another known as "Abraham Lincoln National Airport". The FAA refers to the two proposals as South Suburban Airport. The airport would serve as an additional airport in the Chicago metropolitan area. Supporters of the airport say it will bring new jobs to the southern suburbs of Chicago, while relieving critical runway and terminal congestion at O'Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport. A new airport would accommodate larger jet service that Midway International airport cannot offer.
Critics believe the airport would be a failure like MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. Expanding O'Hare or other international airports in Milwaukee, Rockford, and Gary are thought to be viable alternatives.
History of the proposed airport
Professor Stanley Burge of Northwest University gave birth to the Peotone airport site during an economic summit on November 14, 1968. His main argument for the proposed land site was mobility and access to the airport. Professor Burge envisioned a high-speed train service to downtown Chicago.
The Peotone site was an alternative location to a proposed lake site announced during Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s 1967 inaugural speech, just one of many projects proposed, including a Red Line Expansion. The Chicago Public Works and Aviation Department worked cohesively with the Federal Aviation Administration during the Johnson and Nixon administrations from January 1967 to January 1970 to develop a litany of needed consultant reports beginning with an appraisal report, a summary of engineering reports, and graphic simulation studies for both a land and lake site. On January 27, 1970, Mayor Daley shelved plans for the airport, stating, “It was not necessary until year 2000.”
Following fifteen years of investment at O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport in the early 70’s, the north urban airport became a strain for the north central suburbs of the Cook County in the mid 80’s. State Legislators from north suburban Cook and DuPage counties applied political pressure to control expansion of O’Hare. House and Senate legislators tried three times to pass a Metropolitan Airport Authority bill from 1985 to 1987, in an effort to alleviate airspace noise and pollution from the urban airport. Legislators compromised on a resolution, which awarded $500,000 for a transportation study for the proposed 3rd Chicago airport.
In 1986, state legislation created the Illinois Airport System Plan Policy Commission (IASPPC). The commission had bi-partisan and tri-state support from Governors of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Commissioners chose consultant Peat Marwick to develop the aviation studies. The first capacity study concluded that neither O’Hare nor Midway could meet the expanding aviation market, and recommended a supplemental airport be built. South Cook Senator Angelo DeAngelis (R) of Olympia Fields advocated for the Peotone site. DeAngelies stated, “Economic considerations would override political ones in choosing a location."
Four months after the election of Mayor Richard M. Daley in August 1989, the Lake Calumet site was submitted by Daley as an alternative site to the IASPPC. By February 5, 1990, Mayor Daley released a feasibility study for the Lake Calumet Site which indicated that the $5 billion cost to construct the airport would be partially funded by a passenger facility charge which would generate $1.8 billion. Federal legislation sealed the passenger facility charges on August 2, 1990 in the 101st congress 2nd session through H.R. 5170.
Nearly 2 million people in 66 municipalities and villages live in south Cook and north central Cook, which would be directly impacted both positively and negatively by an urban airport. Land restrictions of an urban airport had taken its toll on some of the members of the North Central Council of Mayors; they began the first suburban Cook coalition. Along with the South Suburban Council of Mayors and the Southwest Council of Mayors, this group has produced consultant reports showing negative impacts.
However, it appears the passenger facility charges sealed its fate in the selection process. The City of Chicago also acquired three seats on the IASPPC, bringing the total to eleven. Political pressure by the City of Chicago ended in IASPPC members voting to eliminate all rural sites from final vote. The final vote selection was between Gary Airport and Lake Calumet. IASSPPC member, Senator DeAngelis gave an emotional speech “that attacked the process and political pressure placed on the committee.”
Following the selection of the Lake Calumet site, Mayor Daley attempted to put a legislative bill through during the end of the legislative session. The cost of the Lake Calumet site was $10.8 billion. Senate President Pate Phillips did not support the bill because it left the state of Illinois footing $2 billion of the cost. It took four tries in the House before reaching the Senate. By July 1992, Mayor Daley declared the airport issue “dead.”
Planning for the South Suburban Airport began in 1984 as a cooperative venture between the states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, the city of Chicago and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). After many studies, the airport location alternatives were narrowed to five sites in 1990.
The state of Illinois submitted an Environmental Assessment to the FAA in March 1998 for approval of the development of an airport at a site in eastern Will County, Illinois. Recently, the FAA prepared a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for site approval and land acquisition. The FAA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the Tier 1 EIS in July 2002, which approved the Will County, Illinois site as a technically and environmentally feasible location for the development of a potential future air carrier airport in the south suburban area of the greater Chicago region.
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) began purchasing land surrounding the Will County airport site in 2002 with funding of $75 million earmarked by the Illinois FIRST program. The state has purchased about half of the 4,200 acres (6.56 sq mi; 17.00 km2) required for the plan. The current plan is in flux as the position of the runways are continuing to be debated. Eminent domain cases are beginning to work their way through the courts. However, these cases are expected to be thrown out, as most local officials would rather see an existing airport utilized rather than buying land for an airport which may or may not be built.
In June 2008, Gary-Chicago International announced an agreement with 3 local railroads (Norfolk Southern, EJ&E and CSX) that will allow the airport to relocate railroad tracks and expand its runways. These longer runways will be able to accommodate jets of any size class. Combined with the planned terminal expansion, which will include a South Shore and high-speed railroad station, the plans for Chicago's south suburban airport might be coming to an end.
In March 2011, Illinois Governor Quinn announced his intention to start construction “as fast as humanly possible”; however, the FAA had not finalized plans yet and the land acquisition was not yet completed. In June, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood noted that there has been little call in Washington for the Peotone airport compared to the support for the O'Hare expansion.
The proposed airport is within the airspace of an existing airport, Bult Field (C56), a privately owned airport with a 5,000 foot runway. On July 1, 2014, IDOT purchased Bult Field and some surrounding farmland for $34 million.
- Merrion, Paul (2008-02-11). "State Circling Peotone Land". Crain’s Chicago Business (Crain Communications, Inc.). p. 14.
- Battle Over Peotone Airport Still Going, Michael Borunda, ChicagoTalks, March 7, 2011
- DuPage Airport lands praise, but third-airport proposal still circling, Susan Frick Carlman, The Courier-News, June 14, 2011
- IDOT Acquires Bult Field, Major Milestone for South Suburban Airport , Illinois Department of Transportation Press Release, July 1, 2014
- The officially appointed State Ombudsman for South Suburban Airport
- Illinois Department of Transportation - South Suburban Airport project
- Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission official site
- FAA - South Suburban Airport
- Ultimate-concept (pdf)
- The Peotone Airport Proposal