Group proposes public/private partnership for third Chicago airport
For more than 25 years there has been talk of building an additional airport to serve the needs of the Chicago region. Now that O’Hare International Airport’s capacity is being tested, as well as the airspace capacity, the idea is looking more like a reality. The South Suburban Airport Commission is one group working to bring an innovative concept in airport development to Chicago’s southern tier, creating what SSAC executive director Rick Bryant calls regional balance.
Created last year under a state law by which municipalities can join together and create an airport commission, the South Suburban Airport Commission is comprised of more than 30 municipalities, says Bryant, who is also district administrator for Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), a long-time supporter of the project.
SSAC is financed by Bensonville and Elk Grove Village, two northwest Chicago communities. “They have such strong local economies,” explains Bryant, “that they can afford to pay some of these up front costs. But [they] will be reimbursed for their expenses through airport revenues. And once the airport is up and running, they’re out of the commission and the only members will be from the south suburbs.”
“We have a plan to build an airport through a public/private partnership,” says Bryant. “It’s an innovative idea for building airports in the United States, but it’s a proven and successful model around the world.”
He explains that the SSAC is proposing that the new airport be built with private financing. Private investors will finance, design, and build the airport.
Says Bryant, if the airport were publicly funded, “you’re in competition for tight dollars at the federal end. Also, with the economy, the state isn’t in a position to finance this. We thought we could find someone who would develop it for us. And it just seemed like an efficient way to get it done.”
The state of Illinois has been purchasing land at the proposed site near University Park, IL, and according to Bryant, has acquired nearly half of the 4,400 acres required for the first phase of development. SSAC expects to either buy or lease the land from the state, using airport revenues.
The Will County region, says Bryant, is the fastest growing county in the Midwest, and the last area to be developed around Chicago. In the mid-’80s, a bi-state site selection committee was established to look at some eight proposed sites for an additional airport. “The South Suburban site, near University Park, ranked best when you put all the grids together and add up all the advantages and disadvantages,” he says. “From our perspective, it would bring balance to the region’s economy. You’d have O’Hare in the northwest suburbs, you have Midway in the western suburbs, and you’d have South Suburban Airport. You’d have three airports spread out in three different airspaces, serving three different portions of the market. There are 2.5 million people that live within a 45-minute drive of the South Suburban Airport site. Hard to imagine any area of the country where there’s 2.5 million people and there’s no airport.”