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Mon, Feb 12, 2007

FAA To Peotone Airport: One Design, Please

2007 May Not Be "The" Year For Third Chicago Airport

Poor Peotone Airport. The familiar "We Try Harder" car rental company slogan may be appropriate for the proposed third Chicago-area airport.

With the state of Illinois submitting two plans for the much anticipated Peotone airport to the FAA, the agency's reaction was: just one, please -- an unanticipated response to Peotone backers, according to Suburban Chicago News.

Said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro, the FAA "doesn't consider the state's planning process complete until one design has been selected. We typically receive just one preferred plan."

Peotone is located about 40 miles south of Chicago. As reported by ANN, transportation planners have been working on a third regional airport for Illinois for at least 25 years.

The submission of two plans for approval and the FAA selecting the best, was the result of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's hopes of resolving a dispute over rival visions for the single-runway airport.

In fact, Blagojevich included a second plan in addition to the Illinois DOT's own design at the urging of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Chicago), often seen as the airport's biggest cheerleader.

According to Rick Bryant, Jackson's spokesman and executive director of Jackson's Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC), Jackson's plan called for a larger distance between the third airport's runway and Bult Field, a small, private airfield already operating at the Peotone site.

By doubling the distance between the runways from the state's preference of a half-mile to a mile, said Bryant, Jackson's plan takes into account recent growth at Bult Field. The plan "is safer and allows for easier future expansion," Bryant said.

Bryant noted that the FAA's one airport-one plan announcement "contradicts what we have previously been told."

Illinois DOT (IDOT) spokesman Mike Claffey said Friday's FAA statement -- made to the Daily Southtown before IDOT and ALNAC officials had been contacted -- had been a "surprise" to the state, too.

"It's difficult to respond until we've heard directly and in detail from the FAA," Claffey said. He noted that the two plans had been submitted because FAA officials were the "best people to look at the merits of each."

FAA officials will speak with the state next week about submitting a unified set of plans, Molinaro said. The FAA must consider the environmental impact of the airport, he said, which would cater to about 40,000 flights a year, as well as safety concerns.

The approval process, which is expected to take between a year and 18 months, will not begin until that happens, Molinaro said.

Airport backers really expected 2007 to be "the" year for Peotone: Jackson's strengthened influence with Democrat control of Congress, IDOT establishing a field office at the airport site, the state hiring an aeronautics director, and moves made to acquire the 2,200 acres needed by eminent domain.

"We're still hopeful," Bryant said.

FMI: www.dot.state.il.us, www.faa.gov

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