PEOTONE – The state is reviving the South Suburban Airport project but perhaps only to end it.
The Illinois Department of Transportation next week will start what’s called a request-for-information process, seeking information that would be used to eventually develop a public-private partnership to build and operate the airport.
Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said Thursday that the request-for-information process is being initiated so the state can finally make a decision whether to build an airport that has been in various stages of planning for 30 years.
“Mostly, the reason we’re doing this is to bring some closure on this for the people who live there,” Blankenhorn said. “We have no idea how much interest there is in this project. This will tell us.”
The process still could take 18 months to two years.
But Blankenhorn said the process should determine whether there is a viable market for the airport and private companies with a serious interest in putting money into it.
The debate has gone on for decades over whether the airport, which would be built in the general vicinity of Peotone, would be an economic boon or a boondoggle.
The project appears to have been all but dormant in recent years.
But it hasn’t been that way for the people who live in the footprint of the area mapped out for the airport and nearby.
Judy Ogalla, a Will County Board member who lives in the airport area, said farmers continue to go to court facing condemnation proceedings initiated by the state several years ago.
“Some of them are farmers with 100-year-old farms, but they lost those farms to an airport that isn’t even built,” Ogalla said.
Ogalla said that the potential airport site is located in portions of Will, Washington and Monee townships near the village of Peotone.
Ogalla said she welcomes the state’s decision to initiate the request-for-information process.
“I think it’s about time that somebody decided they’re going to make a decision on whether they’re going to build it or not,” she said. “It’s been 30 years that this site has been talked about.”
Proponents of the airport may welcome the state’s decision as well.
“We hope we’re going to find someone who wants to build and operate the airport,” said John Greuling, CEO for the Will County Center for Economic Development, an organization that is on the pro-airport side.
Greuling agreed that a final decision will be helpful to landowners in the airport region.
But he thinks it’s the right time to test the market for the airport, which has long been contemplated as a public-private partnership.
He said that President Donald Trump is advocating public-private ventures as a way to rebuild infrastructure and upgrade airports.
“We’ve said all along we could build the largest, safest, most secure and most environmentally friendly airport in the country right here in Will County,” Grueling said.
Blankenhorn said the request for information is likely to go out Monday or Tuesday.
He had no particular motivation for doing it now other than to get to a final decision on whether to move forward with the airport, he said.
“We just decided now is the time to put this process on wheels,” Blankenhorn said.