Prior to a leave of absence that began June 9, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Chicago) was focused on the construction of a third Chicago area airport in the south suburb of Peotone. So it was interesting to see the Chicago Sun-Times report Monday that a top Illinois Department of Transportation official said the Peotone airport “is going to happen.” Was a longtime Jackson goal finally realized with Jackson out?
The short answer is no. A proposed Peotone airport must get FAA clearance on several matters, and secure significantly more money. Plus, a standoff between Will County and Jackson must be resolved.
The Sun-Times reported that Susan Shea, director of the aeronautics division for IDOT, said at a meeting Friday that it is just a matter of when, not if, for the airport. Shea cited as evidence that the Federal Aviation Administration accepted in June the “Alternatives Report” submitted by IDOT. The report proposes the best location and set up for an initial airfield.
But according to agency spokesman Guy Tridgell, IDOT has yet to submit – and the FAA has yet to approve – an airport layout plan, implementation plan, and financial feasibility analysis. Also, IDOT is still working with the FAA on studying the possible environmental impact of a third airport.
Tridgell said that there was no estimated timetable as to when these hurdles would be cleared.
An implementation plan will depend on acquiring Will County land. The state has worked since 2001 to acquire 5,400 acres for a Peotone airport and has so far purchased just 2,471 acres, according to Tridgell. Tridgell points to Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now!, a capital program launched in 2009, as containing the $100 million needed to complete the land acquisition.
When the acquisition will happen is another unknown. “The administration has moved this to the back burner,” contends Larry Walsh, executive of the Will County Board.
Rick Bryant, chief of staff for Jackson, partly defends the governor, stating that Quinn could be more aggressive but that he has accomplished more on Peotone than past governors.
One wild card is who would exactly control the airport, a determination IDOT and the FAA must eventually resolve. Walsh has a plan that gives Will County control. Jackson has a different plan that includes other counties and private investors separate from the ones pushed by Walsh.
Asked if they were any signs of compromise between Jackson’s office and the Will County Board, Walsh replied “no.”
Last week, the Mayo Clinic announced that Jackson has been there seeking treatment for depression and gastrointestinal issues, following weeks of speculation on his condition. Examinations of Jackson’s 17-year tenure have focused on the congressman’s fallen political star. But the airport is one issue Jackson has stayed publicly passionate about it, viewing it as a major engine of economic development.
Bryant said he “did not believe” that Jackson’s absence has hurt momentum for the airport. “We continue to discuss the project with local and state officials,” Bryant said.