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Quinn OKs Peotone Airport Legislation, Daley Calls 3rd Airport ‘Cruel Hoax’

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation putting the state’s Department of Transportation in charge of building and managing an airport in south suburban Peotone.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the governor said, after 40 years of fits and starts, the project for a third Chicago area airport is moving forward. He said IDOT is the best entity to build and control the proposed Peotone airport.

The measure allows IDOT to spend $70 million on land acquisition for the South Suburban Airport. The legislation was bundled with projects for elected officials all over the state – including the Emanuel administration’s plan for a new building on the McCormick Place campus that would serve as a basketball stadium for DePaul University.

Suddenly, after decades of regional fighting over the airport, a consensus has been reached on who would control the facility.

“I think, for most people, the South Suburban Airport has been talked about from decades. I have worked from the day I was sworn in as governor, and we had to keep working on it,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t an easy mountain to climb, but we did it together, and we got it done. We got the job done.”

Bill Daley, the former White House chief of staff and former U.S. Commerce Secretary running against Quinn in next year’s Democratic primary, questioned the viability of a Peotone airport when there has been no detailed plan put forth to pay for it.

“There must be some economic plan, obviously, for the southern suburbs. They are struggling mightily, but every election cycle we get somebody dangling this airport thing that somebody else is going to pay for – and allegedly not the taxpayers of Illinois – that I think oftentimes has been a cruel hoax on people.”

For his part, Quinn seemed unconcerned the airlines were not on board with a third airport in the Chicago area. He talked about the south suburbs being the largest inland port in the U.S., with intermodal facilities, and said adding air cargo service would be an economic engine.

“This part of our state of Illinois, if it was one city, would be one of the largest cities in America, and that’s why we need a South Suburban Airport to deal with the cargo that comes in from all over the world, and the country,” Quinn said. “We also have to have something that deals with the need for passengers, as well.”

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Field) was the chief sponsor of the airport legislation.

“It’s time for us to invest in growing a part of the region that is the fastest-growing part of the region,” she said. “Please know there are 1.8 million people within one hour’s drive time of this facility.”

The FAA granted site approval for a potential airport, and the state has been acquiring land for the facility, but the FAA has yet to decide whether the airport should be built. It is waiting for a master plan from the state.

Daley questioned how the cash-strapped state could afford to borrow money to fund construction of an airport when its credit rating is the worst of any state in the nation.

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to float $5 billion worth of bonds to build an airport,” Daley said. “So, once again, we have politicians running around saying to people of the south suburbs ‘Don’t worry, this is coming. … The plane’s going to be going down the runway soon.’”

The state already has spent more than $30 million to buy more than 2,300 acres of the 5,800 acres it would need for the proposed airport.

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