The proposed Chicago south suburban airport (also referred to as the Peotone airport) is a proposed airport that would be located in Peotone, Illinois, United States, approximately 40 miles (64 km) south of Chicago. Serving in addition to the two international commercial airports serving Chicago (O'Hare and Midway), the site would serve the south suburbs of the Chicago metropolitan area. The two existing airports currently serving Chicago (O'Hare and Midway) are located within and operated by the City of Chicago, with the Northern Illinois region also served by two other international airports in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Following the expansion of O'Hare to become one of the busiest international airports of the world, proposals for a third airport have been in discussion since the end of the 1960s, with planning for the development of a site in Peotone since the late 1990s. Since its initiation over 50 years ago, proposal for a third airport has remained controversial in terms of both cost, need, and calls for alternatives to accommodate increased air traffic demand.
Stanley Berge, a professor at Northwestern University, first proposed a Peotone airport site on November 13, 1968. His main arguments for the proposed site were that it could have fast access to Chicago by rail and highway, that the potential site was far enough from O'Hare Airport to avoid the airports interfering with each other's flight patterns, that it would have all-weather flight safety, and that the site was environmentally compatible with the surrounding area. Berge envisioned a high-speed train service to downtown Chicago.
The Peotone site was an alternative location to a proposed lake site announced during Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's 1967 inaugural speech. The Chicago Public Works and Aviation Department worked cohesively with the Federal Aviation Administration during the Johnson and Nixon administrations from January 1967 to January 1970 to develop a litany of needed consultant reports beginning with an appraisal report, a summary of engineering reports, and graphic simulation studies for both a land and lake site. On January 27, 1970, Daley shelved plans for the airport, stating, "It was not necessary until year 2000".
Following 15 years of investments at both O'Hare and Midway airports in the early 1970s, some northwest suburban leaders became concerned over noise issues at O'Hare Airport, the busiest airport in the world at that time, and an economic boon for Chicago metropolitan area. Leaders from suburban DuPage County and suburban northwest Cook County attempted to apply political pressure to control expansion and enhancements of O'Hare - the airport, however, received numerous expansions and upgrades over the next three decades. State House and Senate legislators tried three times to pass a Metropolitan Airport Authority bill from 1985 to 1987, in an effort to alleviate airspace noise and pollution from the airport but the bill never passed. Legislators compromised on a resolution, which awarded $500,000 for a transportation study for a proposed third Chicago area airport.
In 1986, state legislation created the Illinois Airport System Plan Policy Commission (IASPPC). The commission had bipartisan and tri-state support from the governors of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Commissioners chose consultant Peat Marwick to develop the aviation studies. The first capacity study concluded that O’Hare and Midway airports alone could not accommodate the expanding Chicago aviation market, and the study recommended another airport be built. Senator Aldo DeAngelis of south suburban Olympia Fields advocated for the Peotone site stating, "economic considerations would override political ones in choosing a location" for the airport.
The City of Chicago had acquired three seats on the IASPPC, bringing the total to eleven. Political pressure by the City of Chicago resulted in IASPPC members voting to eliminate all rural sites from the final vote. The final vote selection was between Gary Airport and Lake Calumet, a lake and region in Chicago that the airport would be built in proximity to, and also the mayor's preference.
The Lake Calumet site was selected and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, the son of a previous Chicago mayor, Richard J. Daley, attempted to put a legislative bill through during the end of the state legislative session. The cost of the Lake Calumet site was $10.8 billion. State Senate President Pate Phillips did not support the bill as it would cost the state $2 billion for its share. It took four tries in the State House before reaching the State Senate. By July 1992, Mayor Daley declared the airport issue dead and focused on further expansions and enhancements of O'Hare and Midway airports.
Planning for the South Suburban Airport began in 1984 as a cooperative venture between the states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, the city of Chicago, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has stated that the Chicago area needs a third airport to handle growing air traffic. After many studies, the airport location alternatives were narrowed to five sites in 1990.
The state of Illinois submitted an Environmental Assessment to the FAA in March 1998 for approval of the development of an airport at a site in eastern Will County. The FAA prepared a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for site approval and land acquisition, and issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the Tier 1 EIS in July 2002, which approved the Will County, Illinois, site as a technically and environmentally feasible location for the development of a potential future air carrier airport in the south suburban area of Chicago.
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) began purchasing land for the Will County airport site in 2002, with funding of $75 million earmarked by the Illinois FIRST program. The state has purchased about half of the 4,200 acres (6.56 sq mi; 17.00 km2) required for the plan. The current plan is in flux as the position of the runways are continuing to be debated. Eminent domain cases are also working their way through the courts. About three million people live in central and south Cook County, Illinois; Will County, Illinois; and Lake County, Indiana, putting them in reasonable proximity to the proposed airport in Peotone. The airport is also expected to serve travelers from all over the Midwest.
In June 2008, Gary-Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana, announced an agreement with three local railroads (Norfolk Southern, EJ&E, and CSX) that will allow the relocation of railroad tracks so that the airport runways may be expanded. These longer runways will allow the airport to handle larger aircraft. In March 2011, then-Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced his intention to start construction "as fast as humanly possible" on an airport in Illinois; however, the FAA had not finalized plans yet and the land acquisition was still being completed. In June, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood noted that there had been little call at the federal level recently for the proposed Peotone airport. However, plans for the south suburban airport were still in progress.
The proposed airport is within the airspace of an existing airport, Bult Field (C56), a privately owned airport with a 5,000-foot runway. On July 1, 2014, IDOT purchased Bult Field and some surrounding land for $34 million for the new Chicago-area airport.
The proposed third airport was included in REBUILD Illinois, the 2019 capital bill signed into law by Governor J. B. Pritzker. The bill allocated $162 million toward road improvements that would connect Interstate 57 to the proposed airport site, an environmental review, and the completion of a master plan.
An op-ed in Crain's Chicago Business by public affairs consultant Delmarie Cobb cites its proximity to five of Amazon's south suburban fulfillment centers and job opportunities for residents of the South Side of Chicago and south suburbs as reasons to support a third airport in the south suburbs.
Supporters of a new south suburban airport have historically found common ground with those opposing an expansion of O'Hare Airport, which is routinely ranked as the world's first or second busiest airport. The proponents of the south suburban airport and those opposing expansion of O'Hare believe a south suburban airport would alleviate the heavy and still growing air traffic, while not necessitating the expansion of the already extremely large and busy O'Hare. It would also provide additional economic opportunities to the south suburbs.
There had been discussions on expanding the airports in either Rockford, Illinois or Milwaukee, Wisconsin and utilizing one of those airports as a third Chicago area airport. However, proponents of a third airport believe that Rockford and Milwaukee are not close enough to Chicago to be an effective option, and that expanding Milwaukee's or Gary, Indiana's airports for Chicago-bound travelers is not as financially beneficial to the state of Illinois as it will be to the states of Wisconsin or Indiana.
There is no official name beyond the south suburban airport, and two separate plans exist. The FAA refers to both proposals as South Suburban Airport. The airport would serve as an additional airport in the Chicago metropolitan area. Critics believe the airport is unnecessary and may be a failure like MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. These groups believe that expanding O'Hare or other existing airports in Rockford, IL; Milwaukee, WI; or Gary, IN are thought to be viable alternatives.
The Peotone specific opposition to the south suburban airport includes environmentalists and farmers. Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said the construction would destroy 1,200 acres of flood plains as well as 180 acres of wetlands.
Various politicians and interest groups have proposed alternatives to a south suburban airport.
Four months after the election of Mayor Richard M. Daley in August 1989, the Lake Calumet site was submitted by Daley as an alternative site to the IASPPC. By February 5, 1990, Daley released a feasibility study for the Lake Calumet site which indicated that the $5 billion cost to construct the airport would be partially funded by a passenger facility charge which would generate $1.8 billion. Federal legislation sealed the passenger facility charges on August 2, 1990, in the 101st Congress's 2nd session through H.R. 5170. The proposed airport would have resulted in the demolition of Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood along with portions of suburban Burnham and Calumet City and faced staunch opposition from Hegewisch residents. After facing opposition from Senate President Pate Philip and concerns over the cost of the airport, Daley declared the airport proposal "dead."
Main article: O'Hare International Airport § Modernization plan
After his failure to build the Lake Calumet airport, Daley focused his efforts on the expansion of O'Hare Airport. Opponents of the O'Hare expansion are supportive of a third airport.
A proposal to turn the Gary/Chicago International Airport into Chicago's third major airport received a boost in early 2006 with the approval of $48 million in federal funding over the next ten years. Expansion plans include a new multi-level Intermodal Terminal combining three modes of transit – passenger rail, passenger vehicles and air travel. The rail system is designed to combine both commuter and high-speed lines.