Stars ‘aligned’ for proposed airport in suburban Chicago, expert says

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CHICAGO — The political and economic stars have aligned for the development of a suburban Chicago airport, according to a transportation expert.

Officials have spent years debating whether an airport in Peotone, located about 45 miles (71 kilometers) south of Chicago, should be built. This year’s state budget revived the proposal and allocated $162 million for road improvements that would connect Interstate 57 to the proposed airport site.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the budget in June.

DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman told the Chicago Tribune the proposal has a shot this time. He said e-commerce companies could use the airport to transport goods to and from distribution centers. He added the state’s investment helps, too.

“The stars have aligned both politically and economically,” Schwieterman said. “Years of acquiring land has set the stage for a fairly fast timetable.”

But opponents, including environmentalists and Will County farmers, said the airport would be a waste of rich agricultural land and public money. They also contend it’s not needed, given the available capacity at Rockford, Gary and O’Hare International airports.

Judy Ogalla, a farmer and Republican Will County Board member who owns land that’s part of the proposed site, said Illinois would be better off investing money in job training in the south suburbs and Chicago’s South Side.

Plans for a south suburban airport began in the 1980s, and the Illinois Department of Transportation started buying land surrounding the Will County site in 2002.

The state owns about 5,000 acres for the airport, while the project calls for 6,000 acres in “inaugural footprint,” said Rick Bryant, senior adviser to Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly, who is an airport proponent.

“We’re going to have to build capacity nationwide, and Chicago should be at the center of that,” Bryant said.

The project stalled under former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration, but new money in the state budget for improvements near the site had the support of dozens of mayors and lawmakers.

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