Legislation is being crafted in Springfield that could end a decade of wrangling over control of the proposed South Suburban Airport near Peotone.
For years, a group called the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission vied with Will County for control of the project. But a bill being worked on in the Legislature would give control to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Based on tentative language in the bill, it would:
Authorize IDOT to enter into a public-private partnership agreement for the development, financing, construction, management, operation and maintenance of the airport.
Encourage IDOT to collaborate with municipalities, counties and other stakeholders affected by the airport.
Give IDOT authority to own the airport property and be able to lease it for up to 75 years to enable project financing.
Require public hearings and a competitive request-for-proposals process for the selection of contractors.
Give IDOT limited quick-take condemnation powers only for properties in the airport’s inaugural footprint.
It is not clear if the bill will make it out of the Legislature by the end of this session on Friday.
“They’re trying to find a home for the bill,” said former state Rep. Brent Hassert, who now is a lobbyist for Will County. “They’re trying to get it together to see if there is support in both chambers.”
He said the compromise bill, which is called the South Suburban Airport Public-Private Airport Legislation, would be a way to move the project forward.
“The bottom line is building the airport for economic development,” said Hassert of Romeoville. “IDOT would be in charge, and that takes the rest of them out of play.”
Although he was hesitant to endorse the bill because he hasn’t seen the final language, John Greuling, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, said the concept is sound because it involves a public-private partnership.
Last year, the Legislature approved legislation allowing public-private partnerships for large projects excluding airports. The Illiana Expressway, a road that would connect Interstate 65 in Indiana with Interstate 55 in Illinois, would be built using that model.
“Governments don’t have enough money to do airports and 52-mile roads,” Greuling said. “I think this is something Washington has been encouraging as a way to fund projects.”
Greuling said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is on the record opposing the south suburban airport, so it remains to be seen what will happen in Springfield as the session winds down.
If the law gets passed, it will end a bitter dispute that began between former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Will County. Jackson, who represented only a tiny portion of Will County and none of the airport land, created ALNAC in 2003. It was made up mostly of southern Cook County home-rule communities. Jackson resigned his seat in November and pleaded guilty in February to misusing campaign funds.
“Jesse Jackson Jr. was leading the charge (for ALNAC),” Greuling said. “We knew once he stepped aside, that was going to be an opportunity to find a middle-ground solution.”
IDOT has spent almost $38 million so far to buy 2,667 acres from willing sellers, but the agency needs 5,800 acres for an inaugural airport footprint, so it has started to condemn land.
Once the state acquires the rest of the land and submits reports, and a governance plan is in place, it would take the Federal Aviation Administration 18 months to two years to decide if a third regional airport is needed in the Chicago region, officials have said.