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State throws money into a risky venture

Third airport is not needed for Chicago

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration has taken another step toward making a third Chicago-area airport a reality.

Please, stop.

This is a risky venture, and taxpayers will be the ones left holding the bill.

The third Chicago airport, to be near Peotone, has been on the agenda of various state officials and Illinois Congress members for several years. It was a bad idea before, and it’s a worse idea now.

Last week, the Illinois Department of Transportation submitted a draft layout for the proposed airport to the Federal Aviation Administration.

It’s the latest and biggest step toward establishing the airport.

But there is no need for a third Chicago-area airport, according to several transportation analysts. The single-runway Peotone airport could be the same sort of boondoggle that was created at the MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah. This airport, built alongside Scott Air Force Base, was designed to relieve pressure from Lambert Airport in St. Louis.

The need never materialized, and the airport isn’t what you would call bustling. It features one airline, and the ticket counter is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant said MidAmerica is a “fiasco” and has opposed it since the late 1990s. Other analysts say airlines aren’t seeking additional airports because their strategy is to pack more passengers onto fewer flights.

It’s difficult to see how an airport in Chicago’s south suburbs would attract passengers. Those flying to Chicago don’t want to land in Peotone. Passengers in downstate Illinois have plenty of flight choices closer than the Chicago suburbs. Passengers in Central Illinois, for example, can choose between airports in Bloomington, Peoria, Champaign, Springfield and Decatur, or they can drive to Indianapolis, Chicago or St. Louis for flight availability. A third Chicago airport could only be successful by taking passengers and flights away from nearby airports. The airlines aren’t excited about the possibility; no air carriers have committed to flying out of the Peotone airport.

But that doesn’t stop Illinois from investing tax dollars in a questionable venture. The state has put $29.8 million toward the purchase of more than 2,317 acres for the airport. The Illinois DOT wants the General Assembly to earmark another $71 million to purchase the remaining parcels of land.

Quinn believes a third Chicago airport will create jobs and economic investment. That would be correct if the airport turned out to be a viable transportation alternative.

A more likely scenario is that a Peotone airport will be another MidAmerica-style fiasco.

Industry experts, airlines and passengers aren’t excited about a third Chicago airport. This is a huge investment for taxpayers and one that’s unlikely to pay off.

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