Durbin faults delay on 3rd airport

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chided Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the state's legislative leaders Thursday for their "inaction" regarding plans for a proposed regional airport near Peotone.

"The Federal Aviation Administration has informed my office that the viability and future of the proposed south suburban airport is in question," Durbin wrote in an Oct. 18 letter. "While the State of Illinois has submitted two different airport layout plans to the FAA, it has yet to choose a preferred option. Without such a plan, the FAA cannot move forward."

But Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), said leaders are working toward an agreement.

"He can scold all he wants," Brown said "We're not going to big-foot people. We're waiting for local leaders to reach a consensus, and he may want to join that effort."

Supporters who've been pushing for an airport in the south suburban region for at least 20 years welcomed Durbin's comments.

They've been waiting for a state decision since February when the Illinois Department of Transportation submitted two layout plans to the FAA -- one it designed and another proposed by the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, an agency created by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

"We have patiently awaited the submission of a preferred airport layout plan to the FAA," Will County Executive Larry Walsh said in a statement. "I agree that further delays could jeopardize the viability of this project, and our residents deserve a final decision on whether this airport is going to become a reality."

After the FAA told the state it needed to choose one, IDOT's engineering consultants have been working, with Jackson's backing, to modify its layout plan, said IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

A revised draft is scheduled to be completed in a matter of days, said Rick Bryant, a spokesman for Jackson and executive director of the airport commission.

So far, the state has spent about $28 million buying 1,940 acres, about half of the land that is needed, for future development, Claffey said.

"IDOT's Division of Aeronautics had not been informed of any concerns by the FAA about the viability of the south suburban airport," Claffey said. "Our staff is working with the FAA's staff almost daily on plans to complete the master plan."

Representatives for Blagojevich and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) said his office had not seen the letter and therefore had no comment.