FAA: Gary, Peotone Airports at "different" stages

Feb. 8--EAST CHICAGO -- The Gary/Chicago International Airport is at a "very different" stage than the proposed Abraham Lincoln International Airport in Peotone, according to a top Federal Aviation Administration official.

Elliott Black, manager of airport planning for the FAA's Great Lakes Region, said Tuesday the proposed Peotone airport remains in "the planning and environmental stage" at this point. The FAA is still working with the state of Illinois on possible layouts and an environmental review has not yet commenced.

Black spoke at a meeting of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) at East Chicago City Hall.

He spoke three weeks after it was announced the Gary airport had secured an FAA letter of intent for $57.8 million over the next 10 years for expanding its main runway. The letter must still pass a perfunctory Congressional committee review.

The airport wants to expand its main runway to nearly 9,000 feet from its present length of 7,000. The expansion would allow larger passenger and cargo planes to land there.

When pressed by RDA Chairman John Clark on just how far behind the Abraham Lincoln International is as compared to Gary, Black said he would not make that comparison.

"It's like ... with children, they develop at different times at different rates," Black said.

The Peotone airport has been championed by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. as an alternative to overcrowding at O'Hare and Midway airports and a powerful economic development tool for the south suburbs.

The $57.8 million in funding for runway expansion at Gary/Chicago International has been taken by proponents as a significant victory in its bid to become Chicago's "third airport."

Black pointed out the letter of intent from U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta for the Gary airport is a "unique financing tool" that has only been used rarely by the department.

Generally, letter of intent discretionary funds amount to 25 percent of project costs. But Gary/Chicago's letter of intent discretionary costs will amount to 56 percent of project costs, Black said.

"This is one of the highest LOI (letter of intent) levels of assistance ever granted," Black said.