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.


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