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WILL COUNTY, Ill. — Few projects have cost more and produced less than the proposed third airport in Chicago’s far southern suburbs. 

The State of Illinois has spent $97 million over the years buying more than 4,500 acres in Will County for an airport project that has never really gotten off the ground.

Now a south suburban state representative is attempting to force the Illinois Department of Transportation into finally making a decision about whether the project can go forward.

“Let’s see who has the capacity do it,” State Rep. Will Davis (D-30th District, East Hazel Crest) said of the intent of his bill. “If no one responds then no one responds.”

Decades have come and gone and nothing has sprouted on the site other than a small airfield that sees a handful of propeller planes land and take-off each day. Turning the site into a cargo airfield capable of hosting widebody jets would require the acquisition of more land, the pouring of expensive pavement for runways and the construction of cargo facilities.

“We think there are some developers out there that do have the capacity and they’re ready to put pen to paper to show they have the capacity, the wherewithal and the financing to do it,” Davis said.

Some political leaders in the project’s footprint sound cautious. 

“You never say never,” Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant told WGN Investigates. “I think the numbers and the interest should play a role. We don’t want to start along this road and realize there’s no need for it.”

Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration appears lukewarm on the project despite allocating nearly $160 millions for road and utility improvements along I-57 that could accommodate additional industrial traffic. 

Pritzker said the project near Peotone is not a Field of Dreams scenario where the state assumes “if you build it, they will come.” 

“You need to make sure you’re building this because you have intent from cargo carriers who are committed to making that a cargo airport,” Pritzker said.

The legislation forces IDOT to determine within six months of its passage whether a private developer is willing and able to shoulder the airport project.

In 2019, WGN Investigates interviewed land owners who have spent decades resisting overtures from the state to purchase their property and others who have been left in limbo because of it.