Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Illinois Department of Transportation makes sales pitch to potential South Suburban Airport partners

A diverse group of about 150 people came to hear a sales presentation Tuesday for the South Suburban Airport, as the Illinois Department of Transportation seeks private partners to help it design, build and operate the planned field near Peotone.

“Illinois is absolutely serious about building this airport” and wants to do it “as quickly as possible,” IDOT’s acting director, Erica Borggren, told the group of residents, elected officials and business representatives at the Tinley Park Convention Center.

IDOT’s timeline for the airport project has it continuing to acquire land while awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is expected in 2016 or 2017. Once that’s obtained, IDOT will begin selecting private partners in 2017 or 2018 and hopes to have its the airport open for cargo flights by 2020.

The inaugural plan is estimated to cost $702 million and will include a 9,500-foot runway, four passenger gates, an access road and an interchange at Interstate 57 and Illinois 50.

But the airport will be planned with “ultimate development” in mind, allowing for continued expansion and six runways, said Susan Shea, IDOT’s director of aeronautics.

The state has spent $86 million on land acquisition and has another $50 million available, as it needs 2,200 more acres to have the 5,800 needed for the initial airport, Shea said.

IDOT officials stressed that they want ideas and suggestions from potential partners on how best to develop the airport and planned to have one-on-one sessions with them Tuesday. Details of the public-private partnership have yet to be ironed out, but IDOT officials said it will try to balance the financial risk and compensate its partners with airport revenue.

Such partnerships “definitely work,” said Javid Aboutorabi, of Chicago-based Clark Construction, which has been involved in several of them.

Aboutorabi said he was on a “fact-finding mission” Tuesday and has worked with the state on other projects.

Large and small contractors came looking for potential work, as IDOT claimed the airport construction would generate 11,000 construction jobs and another 14,000 long-term jobs.

Loretta Molter, of Molter Construction in Tinley Park, came to see what the proposal was because she lives in the area and has worked on government projects.

“We’re always looking for work,” she said. “I hope by the time they (partnership) are ready to build it, they have the money.”

Walter Reddell, airport manager at the Meadow Creek Airpark subdivision on Harlem Avenue in Monee, seven miles from the planned airport, said the site is a “good place for an airport.” Home values should go up, he said.

“If there’s more commerce in the area, more people will come to the area,” Reddell said. “If Chicago was behind (the South Suburban Airport), it would have been built by now. It should be the No. 2 airport, not Midway.”

Many are counting on the airport spurring economic development. Frank Patton, of Crete-based Great Lakes Basin, said his firm plans to build a rail line from Milwaukee/Janesvillle to Rockford to Kankakee County, with a spur to the South Suburban Airport.

“How can you have a cargo airport without a railroad?” Patton asked.

He described the project as the “largest railroad construction project in 100 years” in the region, adding that plans have been submitted to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for approval.

Some political leaders came to Tuesday’s session to learn more about the South Suburban Airport. Will County Board Speaker Herb Brooks, D-Joliet, said he was pleased to finally see a timeline and get some concrete information — “something we can hang our hat on.”

“I want to see limited turbulence,” said county board member Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet. “The South Suburban Airport is an important piece of upgrading the economy of this area.”

Will Township Clerk Glenn Ginder said land acquisition for the airport is “really chewing up the township.” Because IDOT has bought Bult Field, a small privately owned airfield, and 3,600 acres for the airport so far, Beecher schools have lost $92,000 in property tax revenue, Peotone schools have lost $66,000 and the township road maintenance fund has dropped about $6,000, Ginder said.

“As taxing bodies, we do not want to be in a holding pattern,” said Bob Howard, D-Beecher, a Will County Board member and the Washington Township supervisor. “If they’re going to build it, build it. If they’re not going to build it, we’re stuck.”

- Story and Photo Gallery:  http://posttrib.suntimes.com

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