Airport Wars

Peotone vs. Gary heats up

Gov. Pat Quinn unequivocally backed a third airport in Peotone during his budget address on Wednesday, and put some money where his mouth was.

"We will build a third airport in the south suburbs of Chicago, and we will build it as fast as humanly possible," Quinn said, while pledging $100 million in state funds to buy land in Will County.

Officials in Gary, Indiana, who like to say they are building Chicagoland's third airport, waved Quinn off.

"We're going to expand and build the third airport," Gary airport director Chris Curry told the Gary Post-Tribune. "If Peotone becomes an airport that's built by the state of Illinois, then we're just going to have four of them."

Technically, the Gary airport is called the Gary/Chicago International Airport, thanks to a power play by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995, when he secretly negotiated an agreement with Gary that included sending millions of dollars in Chicago money to help build up the fledgling facility; Daley's motive was to enter the Chicago airports into a bi-state pact to stave off the formation a state or regional airport authority that would have included Peotone.

The Daily Herald notes that "The state began buying land for a 5,200 acre, one-runway airport in 2002 and has spent about $29 million acquiring more than 2,000 acres. The acquisitions slowed to a mere trickle in 2007 and 2008 but a Quinn spokesman confirmed that $100 million has been allocated to buy land for the project in the governor's proposed $26 billion Illinois Jobs Now capital program."

In Rockford, they think they have the third airport.

"Quinn’s 'Build Peotone Now' policy will win him no friends here in baja Wisconsin, where we already have a third airport for Chicagoland," writes Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny of the Rockford Register-Star.

Then again, officials in Milwaukee have argued that they have the actual rights to the phrase "Chicago's Third Airport."

Which begs the question: If we already have three third airports, why are O'Hare and Midway still so congested? And can airports in two other states - along with one in Baja Wisconsin - really qualify? 

Only if Daley gets his way. But for now, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has a governor more dependable than the last on his side.

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