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Rockford Register Star: Opposition growing to renewed south suburban Illinois airport push

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ROCKFORD, IL, May 12, 2019 | comments
Kinzinger, Dunn let Pritzker know RFD is Chicago’s third airport
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The pushback is starting for the plan by 54 Chicago and south suburban politicians to restart the dormant Peotone airport, which has been ebbing and flowing for the last three decades.

The 54 officials are led by four Chicagoland Democrats: U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly of Matteson, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis of Chicago, with the backing of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The other backers are state legislators and south suburban mayors. In an April 26 letter to Gov. JB Pritzker, they asked for $150 million from his prospective capital plan to begin road and utility work near the airport’s site in Monee. The state has spent about $100 million buying nearly 5,000 acres of farmland for the unbuilt airport.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, has written to the governor urging him to resist the push for what advocates say would be Chicagoland’s “third airport.”

Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who is a colonel in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, told the governor that “while it may come as a surprise to those advocates, such an airport already exists in Chicago Rockford International Airport.”

Kinzinger said that when it was first proposed three decades ago, the south suburban airport “may have made sense,” because there were many commercial airlines vying for space at existing airports. Since then, he noted, the number of airlines has shrunk dramatically, “thereby reducing the need for additional airports.”

Meanwhile “RFD grew from a small, regional airport into one of the most up and coming airports in America, supporting the international and domestic needs of both commercial passenger and commercial cargo operations.”

Kinzinger’s 16th Congressional District borders the east side of RFD; he lives in Channahon, which is near Joliet and not too far from the proposed airport.

Kinzinger remarked that politicians pushing the south suburban airport have shifted their focus from passenger to freight.

“Luckily for the state of Illinois, RFD serves as an excellent cargo facility,” he said.

Kinzinger noted the expansion of UPS operations at RFD as well as the expansion of the terminal for Amazon freight. RFD is the nation’s 22nd largest freight airport, currently handling about 40 cargo flights a day and traffic is increasing.

South suburban airport backers say the $150 million they want from state taxpayers would make initial offsite improvements to utilities and roads, including a new interchange on Interstate 57.

That kind of infrastructure already exists at RFD, Kinzinger told the governor, including easy access to Interstates 90 and 39, which provide four-lane transportation to all directions of the country.

The land at the proposed south suburban airport, Kinzinger noted, is already a valuable asset because it “sits in the middle of some of the most productive farmland in in the U.S.”

Kinzinger also said that the unemployment rate in Will County, site of the proposed airport, was 3.9 percent in March, while in Winnebago County it was 6.5 percent and in Boone County, 7.2 percent.

“If one is to use these rates as an indicator of investment needs, then the choice for investment is clear,” he said.

The congressman concluded his letter to Pritzker saying, “I respectfully urge you not to include additional resources for SSA in your 2020 capital plan and instead focus on other necessities. The State of Illinois does not have the financial resources to take care of its most urgent infrastructure needs, and we should not throw good money after bad.”

RFD Executive Director Mike Dunn has rallied the troops around the fight to stop what’s historically been called “Peotone” airport.

In a letter to media and RFD stakeholders, Dunn said that “What Pritzker knows is that Chicago already has a third airport, a top 20 cargo airport called Chicago Rockford International Airport.”

While debate has gone on for decades about whether to build a south suburban airport, “RFD has moved aggressively to create development opportunities and thousands of jobs. The airport has built solid relationship with the federal government through the congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfiled, that since 2015 has delivered more than $100 million in federal funds to the airport. In the fall of 2018, Durbin announced $10.5 million for improvements to RFD,” including $5 million to expand a cargo apron to handle the airport’s growing cargo business.

Not long before the November 2018 election, candidate Pritzker toured RFD with Dunn as his escort. Pritzker was impressed by what he saw, Dunn told me at the time. Dunn reports that RFD has an economic impact to the state of Illinois of $1 billion a year, according to the state’s own research.

“When I had the privilege of showing candidate Pritzker around the airport, he reminded me he was a businessman,” Dunn said.

“I’m confident he will look at (the south suburban airport issue) as a businessman.”

The original article can be found on the Rockford Register Star website here.
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