State Makes Last-Gasp Pitch To Build 3rd Chicago Area Airport

CHICAGO (CBS) — A long-discussed third Chicago regional airport could get a final chance at becoming reality, as state officials seek a private developer to build and operate the facility.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it will submit a “request for information” next week, asking for a company to come in and build the long-stalled South Suburban Airport with private money.

“The people that live in the area have had their lives put on hold, and we owe it them to make a decision whether or not this airport is going to be a go or not,” IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said.

George Ochsenfeld, a longtime opponent of the proposed South Suburban Airport, said he’s glad the state wants to make a decision once and for all.

“That would be a relief, because we’ve been living for 30 years under the shadow of that airport, meaning that people’s property value has been greatly reduced. There’s uncertainty,” he said. “It’s been a nightmare going on for 30 years.”

Ochsenfeld owns 10 acres of land in Peotone, and said talk of an airport killed his dreams of building a house.

“I bought the land out here 32 years ago. I have an old mobile home on it. We intended to build a house after like five years or so, but things dragged on,” he said.

Blankenhorn said interested developers will have 30 days to let the state know what their plans are.

“We’re looking for a company to come in and build this thing with private funding, and not be putting anymore public money into this airport,” he said. “I think we’ll know late this spring, early this summer about what that interest looks like and whether or not we’re going to the next step or not.”

Ochsenfeld, who once headed a now-disbanded group called STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down), said he does not think developers will buy in unless the state gives them land and tax breaks.

“We’ll see what happens. It would be wonderful if sanity prevailed and they killed the project,” he said.

In 2013, then-Gov. Pat Quinn approved legislation putting IDOT in charge of building and managing an airport in Peotone, saying it was the best entity to oversee the project.

However, critics have long questioned the viability of a third major Chicago area airport without a detailed plan to build and pay for it – especially without any major airlines on board to use it.

Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley once called the on-and-off talks of a Peotone airport “a cruel hoax” on the struggling south suburban region.

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 after Quinn signed off on the plan for IDOT to manage the airport.

Several years ago, the FAA granted sited approval for a potential airport, and the state has acquired land for it, but the FAA has yet to decide whether it should be built, awaiting a master plan from the state.

According to the South Suburban Airport website set up by IDOT, the state has spent approximately $95.7 million to acquire more than 4,400 acres of the 5,800 needed for the airport.

The land includes the single-runway Bult Field, a general aviation and corporate aviation airport owned by IDOT, which has been touted as the future site of the South Suburban Airport.

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