Editorial: Time to Build Peotone Airport or Walk Away

Aug. 23--State leaders are talking again about that little town 44 miles south of Chicago. Peotone. Followed by "airport."

Peotone has been the designated site for a new regional airport for more than 20 years. On paper. Not a single spade of dirt has turned.

The state has spent more than $85 million since 2001 to buy land for the airport, including the $34 million purchase in June of Bult Field, a small, private airfield in Monee that's near the Peotone footprint. That spending doesn't include the piles of consultants, legal fees and other resources devoted to the project dating back to 1992, when Gov. Jim Edgar got behind the location.

We've long supported the construction of a third major airport in the Chicago area through private investment. It's time, though, to go full throttle on a Peotone airport or ground the issue once and for all. That's a decision for whoever wins the race for governor.

Gov. Pat Quinn recently announced the purchase of Bult Field. He's hosting a forum next month of developers, air carriers and transportation officials to create a business plan and a strategy to move the project forward. It seems like he's trying to create a pre-election sense of inevitability for the airport development, as he has tried to do for the Illiana Expressway.

We've seen a good model for Peotone -- and a poor model for the Illiana.

The airport is far from a done deal. No major airline is pushing for the chance to operate there. O'Hare International Airport's modernization plan is advancing, albeit slowly. Warnings 15 years ago of major gridlock in the nation's flight system have not come to fruition, although O'Hare still tends to lead the country in flight delays.

The most persistent champion of a Peotone airport, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., is in prison. His successor, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, has managed to smooth relations between rival south suburban camps that want to control the airport. Quinn signed legislation last year that puts IDOT in charge of the project.

The FAA must complete several studies, including a complex environmental analysis. The state still doesn't have all the land needed for the airport.

Who knows if private companies that supposedly expressed an interest in a public-private partnership under Jackson remain on board? That was always Jackson's elusive promise. The march toward the Illiana, which threatens to put enormous risk on taxpayers and little on a private "partner," gives us great pause about the renewed push for Peotone.

The airport should be built only if a public-private partnership would put most of the financial risk on the private sector and if airlines commit to operate there. If that's not accomplished, let's sell the land and move on.

Copyright 2014 - Chicago Tribune

Loading