Rockford Airport is thriving; Don’t waste precious resources on Peotone Airport

As published in the Rockford Register-Star

Last October, Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) celebrated a major achievement with the completion of a $12 million expansion of their international cargo terminal. RFD expanded from a 72,000-square-foot facility to 200,000 feet to accommodate their growing partnership with Amazon and future partners, which has made RFD a major hub in its Prime Air logistics network. The newly expanded facility supports over 800 jobs. RFD is a smashing success, the second largest UPS hub, and is the fastest growing and one our entire region.  Why would the state spend precious resources on another airport that would drain business from RFD and airports around the state?

The Governor recently announced some capital projects led by the University of Illinois along with partnerships with NIU and others.  This is a great project that through research and partnerships can grow new jobs in Illinois.  Meanwhile, Illinois taxpayers, including those of us here in the Stateline, are on the hook year after year for spending on the state’s phantom “third airport” in Peotone, about 43 miles south of Chicago; a project that will spend precious resources and strip jobs and growth away from the Rockford area.  Years ago, the State of Illinois began buying up land for the airport to be built on. From there, IDOT continues to spend money each year paying holding costs and there are more capital proposals to buy land and build roadways.

IDOT state pays Will County year after year to make up for the lost property tax revenue the county would be receiving if this land was privately owned and cultivated for either agricultural or commercial use.  From FY 2005 thru FY 2019, the Illinois Department of Transportation has paid Will County approximately $1.6 million for lost revenue due to acquiring land for the South Suburban Airport.

Let that sink in for a moment. Our tax dollars are being used for the state to pay a county for lost revenue on land the state owns but has never developed for its intended purpose. Every year.

As if that wasn’t dumb enough, consider this. In this year’s capital plan, the state allocated $205.5 million for road construction work on Eagle Lake Road and Interstate 57 in Will County, just west of the proposed site for the Peotone airport. As columnist Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business said “…even though not one spade of dirt had been turned for runways or one airline has signed up, the road work is slated to go ahead.” This is another example of backwards government priorities.

The worst part is that billions are being invested in O’Hare, and millions are being invested in Rockford to be a great cargo and passenger backup.  Why would we want to hurt these state investments and steer money from important projects to help build something that airlines say they don’t need. 

Decades of discussion and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars is enough. We don’t need an airport in Peotone. The growth and success of Chicago Rockford International Airport has more than made up for what an airport in Peotone was imagined to be.

I call on the Governor to stop this waste of precious resources and reinvest those dollars in the capital assets that we have already: our current airports and roadways.  The state should sell the land it purchased in Will County and let local farmers and job creators own and invest in it.  It makes no sense to hurt the investments that we have already to build something that is not needed.