Illinois Public Media News

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Will County Pushes Peotone Airport While Jackson’s Absent

Story by Michael Puente

On a chilly Saturday morning back in April, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.  stood in the middle of a cornfield in eastern Peotone.  He was there to host a symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport he calls Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

Categories: Business, Transportation

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Will County Pushes Peotone Airport While Jackson’s Absent

Story by Michael Puente

On a chilly Saturday morning back in April, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.  stood in the middle of a cornfield in eastern Peotone.  He was there to host a symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport he calls Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

“The point is it’s the people’s groundbreaking. We still need to have a ground breaking with the politicians at a later date when the deal is done. But right now, the ministers, they are the point,” Jackson said back in April at the groundbreaking.

A few hundred people made up mostly of ministers and church-goers from Chicago’s South side boarded buses to take the 30-mile trek south to Peotone.

At the time, Jackson touted the project as a way to bring thousands of construction jobs to his district. He proposed to start with a $200 million, 12,000 foot-long runway and a five-gate terminal. Jackson hoped the airport would eventually be three times the size of Chicago’s O’Hare International.

“We have found developers who are willing to put up $700 million of their own dollars," Jackson said. "They want to be on this land by June 1st of this year.”

June 1 came and went. Today, the site is still filled with rows and rows of corn fields.

However, Jackson isn’t the only elected official who sees big things for this patch of farmland.

“Transportation is always the pivotal part of a growing economy in a county that is going to be able to succeed,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

Walsh has all long promoted the benefits of a south suburban airport.

“To create jobs and to have good paying jobs and to bring the quality of life that our people expect and deserve,” Walsh said.

Congressman Jackson wants the Peotone airport to fuel job creation not only for Will County, but Cook County’s south suburbs. He also wants those areas to have a say in operating the airport.

But that’s a non-starter for Will County.

Walsh wants Will County to have control of any airport that’s built.

“­­­If that doesn’t take place and if we can’t commitment to having that take place, then I don’t know whether we need the airport,” Walsh said.

Up until now, the debate over who gets control of a future airport has been hypothetical. But recently, the FAA approved the exact location of an airport runway and terminal in Peotone. Now, Walsh hopes to meet with Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation later this month to push for Will County to oversee the airport.

“He understands the issue but we just can’t get him to commit to our way of thinking in regards to our plan,” Walsh said.

Jackson’s continued absence could make it easier for Walsh to get his point across to Quinn.

“There is no question that Jackson’s illness. He is kind of the inspirational leader. He’s a charismatic guy. He’s in congress of course. He can make things happen there,” said DePaul University professor Dr. Joseph Schwieterman, who is an authority on urban transportation and economic development in Chicago.

“I think you might say Will County is gradually you might say gaining the edge," Schwieterman said. "Without Jackson, there’s a lot of energy that’s going to be sucked out of the Abraham Lincoln Airport faction.”

But some disagree.

“Because of this unfortunate illness for the Congressman [Jackson], there are some people who want to be opportunistic about this whole situation,” said Al Penn, who is chairman of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC).

Penn said that with or without Jackson, ALNAC’s mission remains the same.

“Congressman Jackson, yes is a singular voice; a very powerful, very dynamic voice in his own right but there are other people who can talk about the viability of an airport,” Penn said.

Penn argues since ALNAC is a state-sanctioned commission set up to operate an airport, Quinn should give them control.

Besides, he said, people from the south suburbs – like the ones bused in for Jackson’s groundbreaking – deserve to have first crack at airport construction jobs. After all, Penn said they did support Quinn’s re-election two years ago.

“When do they get rewarded for their loyalty for Governor Pat Quinn,” Penn said.

Penn believes Jackson will be coming back soon.

Will County’s Walsh scoffs at the notion that it’s trying take advantage of Jackson’s being out of the picture right now.

Walsh said Jackson’s absence isn’t playing a role in Will County’s moves.

“No, that’s doesn’t play a role either,” Walsh said.

Meanwhile, DePaul’s Schwieterman said this airport squabble is turning into a circus which doesn’t help either side’s cause.

“The whole thing is rather silly in a lot of ways," Schwieterman said. "The spoils of an airport really flow to a whole region regardless of who controls it."

Gov. Quinn said if the state can figure out pension reform, then there is no reason why they cannot find common ground on the South Suburban airport.

“We’re trying to do pension reform.  If we can do that I think we can also climb another mountain and get everybody singing out of the same hymn book when it comes to the third airport that we need in Peotone, Illinois,” Quinn said last week in Chicago. “It’s a bustling area of economic activity.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his own airport dreams. He wants billions to expand and modernize O’Hare. Once that’s done, Emanuel said there is no need for an airport in Peotone.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

DOT Grants to Help Willard Airport Attract DC Service

Story by Jeff Bossert

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office has announced federal funding for the University of Illinois’ Willard Airport south of Champaign, to be used to attract air service to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Durbin (D-Ill.) announced that Willard Airport would receive $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program. The money would fund revenue guarantee and marketing support for the new air service.

Willard Airport currently offers passenger service to Chicago and Dallas. According to the travel website Expedia, a trip from Willard Airport to Washington DC requires one or more stops to change flights.

U of I Director of Real Estate Services Bruce Walden says the funds come as a result of a research project with Sixel Consulting, analyzing where people are traveling.

"We felt that we had the best possibility of sustaining a flight if we could travel to the D.C. area," he said. "Hopefully we've done enough homework that we can also convince not only the federal government, but also the airline industry, of the validity of the route, and the likelihood that it could be sustained."

Walden said the U of I has been working with business groups in an effort to secure the required matching funds.  

Sen. Durbin’s announcement of funding for Willard Airport also included DOT funding for airports in Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington-Normal will receive $500,000 to launch new air service to Washington, D.C. or New York.

Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield will receive $250,000 in DOT funding for ground handling and marketing services to support new low-cost air service to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and/or Phoenix.

In the release, Sen. Durbin said that the grants “will support new air service to three important airports in Central Illinois and hopefully lead to more students, families and businesses taking advantage of these new routes”.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2012

Durbin to Sit on Transportation Bill Conference Committee

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he has a seat on the joint committee of Senate and House members who will work on a new version of the national transportation funding bill.

Durbin's office said Tuesday that the Democratic Illinois senator was appointed to the Senate-House Conference Committee by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Durbin says that Illinois depends on "robust federal investment" in transportation to keep the state economy moving. Durbin says he's focused on a bill that will create jobs and protect public transit, rail and highway investments.

Late last month President Barack Obama signed a three-month extension of a transportation bill to keep federal highway and transit aid flowing. The move prevents a widespread shutdown of construction projects.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Transportation Bill Preserves Funding for Transit Agencies

Federal money continues to flow out to local transportation projects, thanks to a 90-day funding measure approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last week. It is the latest in a series of just-in-time extensions that have kept transportation agencies and projects going in east-central Illinois.

Among area mass-transit agencies, Decatur Public Transit would have been hardest hit if Congress had failed to pass a short-term extension. Transit Administrator Paul McChancy said without it, they would face severe downsizing within a couple of months. McChancy said he tries not to wonder about what might happen if Congress deadlocks on the next round of surface transportation funding.

"I don't get into those speculations," McChancy said. "You know, we just have faith that Congress is going to act to support public transportation, because it is so essential to so many people. And we continue along as if full funding is expected."

Richard Brazda of Danville Mass Transit said they could survive a temporary cutoff in federal funds by using money saved up for a new downtown transfer facility. Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit uses federal funds for capital project only --- so day-to-day operations would not be affected.

Congress has until June 30 to finally agree on a long-delayed long-term surface transportation bill --- or pass another stopgap extension. The last long-term surface transportation funding measure expired in 2009. That measure had been passed by a Republican Congress under President George W. Bush. This year, a more divided Congress is struggling to agree on a new long-term bill.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 03, 2012

US Rep. Shimkus’ Bill Would Prevent E15 Lawsuits

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) has introduced a bill in Congress to prevent lawsuits related to problems with E15, a fuel that increases the use of ethanol to 15 percent.

The new gasoline combination represents a major contrast to a majority of the ethanol fuel currently sold in the United States for passenger cars and pickups, which are comprised of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gas. The federal government is determining whether to make the fuel available to consumers.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that E15 be used for vehicles manufactured as early as 2001, but critics worry people may mistakenly use it in older models.

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers has challenged the government's efforts to offer E15. In a statement, the group's President Charles Drevna said with a lawsuit pending, the EPA should not rush to force E15 to the marketplace.

"EPA's hasty attempts to speed introduction of E15 before necessary testing is complete could endanger the safety of American consumers, threatening their vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment with possibly severe damage," Drevna said. "This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people."

Shimkus' bill is known as the Domestic Fuels Act of 2012 (HR 4345). It has gained support from Republicans and Democrats in the House, and there is a similar measure that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Shimkus touts the proposal, saying that by protecting retailers, engine manufacturers, and fuel producers from E15 related lawsuits, he hopes to see E15 and other alternative fuels available at gas pumps.

"One way in which we help decrease our reliance on imported crude oil is the success of ethanol," Shimkus said. "As we move forward, our ability to use that at retail locations is directly proportional to their ability of whether they're going to get sued or not."

The Renewable Fuels Association's President and CEO, Bob Dinneen, has come out in support of Shimkus' legislation. He calls it a thoughtful approach to help speed the country's transition to E15 and higher ethanol blends.

"The bill would avoid unnecessary infrastructure investments by providing gasoline marketers with a commonsense certification pathway for existing equipment that assures safety while accelerating consumer access to these new fuels," Dinneen said. "The Domestic Fuels Act could help deliver price relief at the gas pump for consumers while increasingly liberating this country from its unhealthy, unsafe dependence upon foreign oil."

But the environmental organization, Friends of the Earth opposes the measure, saying E15 could harm people by damaging vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment. Michal Rosenoer, who is an environmental policy advocate with the group, said oil companies should be held liable if something goes wrong.

"The engine damage they're going to incur is going to cost lots of money," Rosenoer said. "Big oil, first and foremost, should not be protected from the liability, but what we need is a more comprehensive liability policy in total."

Before it can be available to consumers, E15 must pass a series of federal tests and become a registered fuel in individual states. At this point, 20 ethanol makers have already registered to sell the fuel, including the Archer Daniels Midland Company in Decatur.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's approval of ADM's E-15 registration is a step toward bringing this homegrown fuel to American drivers," said Matt Bruns, vice president of Corn Processing for ADM. "E15 offers American drivers a cleaner, renewable alternative to traditional gasoline while positively contributing to our country's energy security, rural economic development and environmental improvement."

The Obama administration is looking to assist gas station owners in installing 10,000 blender pumps over the next several years. The federal government also has provided grants, loans and loan guarantees to push the use of bio-fuels.

(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2012

Chicago Embarks on $7 Billion Infrastructure Plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced a $7 billion program to overhaul Chicago's infrastructure.

The plan announced Thursday includes improvements to rail stations, airports and parks. The mayor says the three-year program will create more than 30,000 jobs. He says the money will come from partnerships with private sector investors and not taxpayer dollars.

Among the projects will be the renovation of more than 100 Chicago Transit Authority stations. There will be $1.4 billion spent to build two new runways at O'Hare International Airport by 2015. The city also will replace 900 miles of century-old water pipes.

Emanuel says the work being done over the next three years will shape "the type of city our children will inherit.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2012

Chicago Weather Cancels Nearly 400 Flights

More than 370 flights have been canceled at Chicago's airports as a fast-moving snowstorm whips across the area.

The Chicago Department of Aviation says more than 300 flights in and out of O'Hare International Airport have been canceled Friday. Southwest Airlines has canceled all 70 of its flights at Midway Airport. That's about 15 percent of all flights at Midway Friday.

The National Weather Service says up to 8 inches of snow could fall by Friday evening. Forecasters say snow could fall at a rate of an inch or more per hour during the storm.

The weather service has issued a winter storm warning that's in effect until late Friday.

Categories: Transportation


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

U. of Illinois to Get New Rail Center

A center dedicated to railroad education and research is being set up on the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The NURail Center will be under the director of U of I Professor Chris Barkan. He said a lot of the work that will take place will focus on improving the safety and reliability of rail transportation. Barkan explained that will include coming up with better ways to transport hazardous materials, and addressing challenges in using rail corridors for both higher-speed passenger trains and freight trains.

"As we want to operate at higher speeds, there's a continuous quest among both the industry and government to further improve safety," Barkan said. "If you look at the data on railroad safety; they've done nothing but get better and better over the last couple of decades. And the idea is that we want to continue that trend."

The U of I is leading a consortium of other universities involved in the project, including the University of Illinois-Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan Technological University, University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"Illinois has the nation's best programs in rail engineering and transit system development and operation, and these UTC's (Urban Transportation Centers) will help the nation and region prepare for future freight and passenger rail needs," said U of I President Michael Hogan

There are several rail projects are underway in Illinois, including upgrading a Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor for 110 mph service.

Categories: Education, Transportation

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