Plans for south suburban airport get boost in Springfield with bill sent to governor – Chicago Tribune

State senators representing the south and southwest suburbs are hailing Senate passage of legislation they say is an important step forward in getting an airport built in the Southland.

House Bill 2531 passed Wednesday and will go to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for consideration, area legislators said Thursday at a Springfield news conference.

The legislation would require the state to establish the process to find partners in the construction of a new airport, legislators said. The measure also adds domestic and global freight cargo transfer development to the stated goals.

If signed into law, the state would advertise for proposals from potential development partners. Pritzker has indicated he would not support the airport until an airline or development partner commits to the project.

The governor’s office said Thursday Pritzker “remains committed to investing in the south suburbs” and that he “looks forward to reviewing the proposed legislation when it arrives on his desk.”

The state has spent $100 million to buy some 5,000 acres for the proposed airport near Monee.

By asking for proposals, the questions of “will an airport be built and are there suitors to build it” will be answered, said state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey.

Passage of the legislation represents “a great victory for the Southland” in advancing plans for the airport, Harris said.

He said the airport has been studied for decades, and the results of studies show that “Illinois is ready for a third airport.”

Farm buildings and homes near the runway at Bult Field in Monee, a possible site for the South Suburban Airport.

Farm buildings and homes near the runway at Bult Field in Monee, a possible site for the South Suburban Airport. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, said the bill is a “crucial piece of legislation that will jump-start the process of finding partners in the construction of the airport to make it a reality for the region.”

Illinois AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devaney said bill “is a huge first step in finding the partners and developers that will bring a south suburban airport to the Chicago Southland.”

Citing Illinois Department of Transportation figures, Devaney said construction could create an estimated 10,000 jobs, and that, initially, 15,000 jobs could be created once an airport opens for cargo traffic.

“This will be transformational for the south suburban region and its many residents seeking employment opportunities,” he said.

The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate in a 33-20 vote, with a handful of Democrats voting against the measure.

Opponents have said the airport could be a waste of public money and rich agricultural land, encourage urban sprawl and cause environmental issues.

Democratic state Sen. Steve Stadelman suggested O’Hare and Midway International Airports in Chicago, as well as an airport in Rockford, where he’s from, already provide sufficient cargo service.

“Rockford is one of the fastest growing cargo airports in the country,” he said.

Democratic state Sen. Rachel Ventura, of Joliet, spoke out against the bill during Wednesday’s debate on the legislation, saying she has been contacted by various groups, including the Sierra Club and the Will County Farm Bureau, who are against it.

“There are no major airfreight carriers on record supporting the need for the Peotone airport,” Ventura said.

State Sen. Mike Hastings, D-Frankfort, noted the huge growth of warehousing and distribution properties in the south and southwest suburbs in recent years, including the opening of massive Amazon fulfillment centers in Markham, Matteson and University Park.

“We are at the crossroads of Illinois,” he said, noting the traversing of Interstates 80 and 57 through the region. “Our region is the hub of transportation.”

Multiple recent studies commissioned by the state back plans for a cargo airport.

State officials recently provided hundreds of pages of studies about airport feasibility to the Chicago Tribune in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Chicago is large enough to accommodate a second air cargo hub to augment Rockford, hence another argument for the need for the SSA,” according to a study by R.A. Wiedemann & Associates.

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Studies found not only was the airport needed to serve growing market demand, but the proposed site of the South Suburban Airport was an ideal location.

Though it is often referred to as the Peotone airport, it’s actually proposed for the site of Bult Field in Monee.

Pritzker’s office said the governor has, in past comments, stressed that nothing should be built without interest from cargo carriers committed to the project.

Noting the success of Rockford in the handling of cargo, Pritzker has said that he sees there being room in the Chicago area for a second cargo-focused airport.

The growth of cargo volume at Rockford “means that cargo can be managed in another area that’s outside of that zone in the south suburbs, but they have to make the commitments and the people that are putting the airport project together need to obtain those commitments,” the governor previously said.

Chicago Tribune reporter Jeremy Gorner contributed to this article.

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May 18, 2023 at 10:28PM

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