Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn seems to have put the proposed Peotone airport on the front burner again. But this amounts to fiddling while Illinois burns.
Illinois is already $13 billion in debt.
Quinn's staff submitted a draft layout plan to the Federal Aviation Administration for a new airport in Will County. Quinn's staff called this a "major milestone." It sounds more like a major blunder.
The Illinois Department of Transportation wants $71 million from the Illinois General Assembly to purchase real estate in the proposed airport's footprint. The proposed airport would spread across 5,800 acres and 148 parcels of land.
Purchasing the property would be just the start of the state's expenses. Even if the airport is privately built and operated, as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has proposed, there are still roads to be built and a passenger rail line to extend. That's not cheap.
Quinn wants this rural airport, which exists only on paper, to be designated the Chicago area's third major airport.
A third airport already exists at Gary and is expanding. Other than politicos who benefit, the the Peotone airport backers haven't convinced people that an airport there is needed. Gary's airport is already operational and being expanded.
It has taken a long time for the Gary/Chicago International Airport runway expansion project to begin, but it is now under way. Allegiant Air already uses the Gary airport, and the longer runway now being built will make additional flights by Allegiant and other airlines possible.
Quinn wants the FAA to declare the Peotone proposal Chicago's third airport. Gary is already earning that crown in the marketplace, which is what really counts. Let the marketplace sort out which airlines and which operations migrate to which airports.
Before Peotone's airport can get off the ground, the controversy over who would control the airport and how it would be built needs to be resolved.
As the need for air transport of goods and people grows, the Chicago area will need more capacity than it has now — and that will bring additional high-paying jobs. No wonder Quinn wants this airport built.
But the Gary airport is already filling this role. This south suburban airport project can simmer.