Supports of the long-debated South Suburban Airport notched a legislative victory this week, as the General Assembly passed a bill that would require the Illinois Department of Transportation to take steps toward developing the facility.
The airport, which would be located in Peotone, some 40 miles south of Chicago, would serve commercial and cargo planes, according to lawmakers, and has been the subject of heated debate for decades.
The new legislation, sponsored by State Sens. Napoleon Harris III, Michael E. Hastings and Patrick Joyce in the Senate, passed by a 33-20 vote on Wednesday.
The bill’s language requires the Department of Transportation to enter into public-private agreements and to establish a prequalification process for vendors to participate in the development, financing, construction, management and operation of the new airport.
This process must be offered within the next six months, according to the bill.
“The South Suburban Airport will promote development and investment in the state of Illinois, and serve as a critical transportation hub in the region,” according to the bill’s language.
HB 2531 passed the House on March 21, and after debate passed the Senate on Wednesday.
The proposed airport site is just north of Peotone, and would be centered around Bult Field, a privately-owned airport that IDOT purchased in 2014. More land was also purchased around the airport with the idea of further development.
Critics of the airport have argued that other airports in Rockford and Gary already handle enough cargo to render it unnecessary.
Other environmental groups also argue that the airport could have a devastating impact on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, with a wide variety of native prairie grasses housed in its 20,000 acres. The site also is the home of a reintroduced herd of bison.
“Despite widespread resistance, the idea won’t seem to die,” the Environmental Law and Policy Center says of the airport. “Politicians assumed O’Hare and Midway would be unable to expand, so they proposed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a third airport in eastern Will County, just north of the small town of Peotone, on land largely devoted to agriculture.”
Other critics have cited the potential for negative impacts on agriculture and on traffic congestion in the area, with millions of dollars required to connect the airport to Interstate 57, the nearest large-scale thoroughfare.
Still, other political leaders argue that the airport would create jobs in disadvantaged communities, and that it would help to ease congestion issues at Chicago’s airports.
“I am pleased that the Illinois State Legislature has taken the needs of the Southland and all of Illinois seriously in passing this legislation,” Rep. Robin Kelly, whose district includes the proposed airport site, said in a statement. “A cargo airport in the south suburbs will bring in a host of new economic activity, benefitting historically-underinvested communities, creating a taxation base to fund our local schools, municipalities, and services.”
Sens. Linda Holmes, Mattie Hunter, David Koehler and Javier Cervantes all cosponsored the bill in the Senate, while Reps. Will Davis, Debbie Meyers-Martin, Anthony DeLuca and Nicholas Smith cosponsored the legislation in the House.
Harris, Hastings and Joyce will hold a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday to discuss the passage of the bill, which now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.
According to a press release, the lawmakers will “celebrate how the accomplishment will generate job creation and local revenue” in Cook and Will counties.
According to WTTW’s Amanda Vinicky, Pritzker has previously expressed hesitation on the project, saying he would wait until cargo companies indicated they would use the airport before pushing for the funding to complete the project.
“What you don’t want is, if you build it, they will come,” he said. “Just building the thing and hoping that people will show up to essentially pay for the airport having been built.”
Region: Chicago,Local,City: Chicago
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May 17, 2023 at 09:33PM