What the pork?! State transpo plan includes $206M for roads to nonexistent airport

O'Hare (blue), Midway (orange), the town of Peotone (purple), and the new proposed airport site. Image: Google Maps
O'Hare (blue), Midway (orange), the town of Peotone (purple), and the new proposed airport site. Image: Google Maps

There’s plenty of good stuff in the $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital bill that was passed this spring in Springfield, including unprecedented money for transit, and a new $50 million annual fund for walking and biking infrastructure. But there are also plenty of warts in the $23.5 billion five-year transportation plan Governor JB Pritzker released yesterday, and his proposal to spend almost $206 million on roads to a third airport near Peotone is a doozy.

As we’ve discussed before on Streetsblog, Chicago is already well-served by two transit-friendly airports, and building a third airport in a car-dependent location in the south suburbs would generate sprawl and make our region even more auto-centric. But it’s a popular idea with some southland residents and politicians who believe the airport would be an economic boon for the area.

In April over 50 local leaders sent a letter to Pritzker supporting the South Suburban Airport proposal. They asked the state of Illinois to chip in $150 million for improvements associated with the airport, such as a new interchange on I-57 at Eagle Lake, local road construction and improvements to utilities,

As reported by Greg Hinz in Crain’s yesterday, Pritzker is ready to shell out even more than they asked for, earmarking $205.5 million for Peotone-related projects in the transportation plan. This includes $150 million for the interchange on I-57, between 2021 and 2025; $19.5 million for construction engineering, and $10 million for acquiring land. Hinz sensibly noted that that money could go a long way toward more pressing transportation priorities, such as beginning work on the south Red Line extension.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Howard Learner told Hinz, “Illinois has a huge backlog of vital transit, rail, highway and bridge projects that improve community mobility. . . .Unfortunately, IDOT is allocating even more public funds than the Legislature appropriated in order to support the Peotone airport project that is opposed by the leading commercial airlines and doesn’t have a viable financial plan. Illinois has higher priorities.”

Indeed, why is the state planning to burn almost a quarter of a billion dollars on this boondoggle, other than to score some political points? Think of how much good that money could do if applied to relatively affordable sustainable transportation, such as creating rapid bus corridors. Heck, that cash would have been more than enough than the $160 million needed to build the first 5.6 miles of the proposed Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit corridor, including the purchase of new buses.

Read Hinz’s full article here.

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