The ongoing fantasy of a new major airport for Chicago is making the rounds

The ongoing fantasy of a new major airport for Chicago is making the rounds
A cornfield that will never be an airport. Photo Credit: Pixabay Images

Between Peotone and Beecher Illinois lays the start of the Corn Belt. The fertile loamy soil is part of the breadbasket of the world. Corn and soybeans grow in the black earth unlike anywhere else on the planet. Family farms are the backbone of the small, tight-knit communities that dot the prairie.

Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois who is further proof that businesspeople are lousy at governing is trotting out a sort of political herpes for a new flare-up. Illinois is making recreational use of marijuana legal in January, and sometimes I wonder if the Governor is doing extensive quality control research on the products coming to market in January.

Speculators are dusting off a more than half-century fantasy of a third major airport in Chicago. An Associated Press story on the topic was rewritten by news organizations and it made local headlines. During the slow news week, if you discount Donald Trump dominating national headlines as he tries to prepare his base for an economic downturn by vilifying everyone on the planet not named Trump, a story came out that an expert says the political planets have aligned in the proper order for a third major airport.

Editors in Chicago saw the AP story as a perfect fit to round out a slow news day. The story fired up folks in Beecher and Peotone, Ilinois who put the pitchforks back in the barn after the last time this story was dug up from the political grave a couple of years ago.

Touting an urban planning expert as an overnight transportation expert is a bit like proclaiming my plumber as a dentist, but that is what the article did. It is pretty apparent to me, a former Washington Lobbyist who advocated for transportation interests at the Department of Transportation, FAA, and Congress for two decades that the expert has no clue about transportation politics. You can read the rewrite of the NBC Chicago story here.

Here are the reasons why Dr. Joseph Schwieterman needs to lay off transportation, and stick with his real expertise, urban development.

There is no political will in Washington for the development of a third airport in Chicago. The frequency of flights in and out of the Chicago area are dropping. There is an excess of capacity at the airports in Gary, Indiana, and Rockford Illinois.

No major airline wants another airport in Chicago. See my note about excess capacity above.

E-commerce can use it is a fantasy. I guess the good Doctor is thinking about Amazon’s Prime Air which owns fifty 767 cargo jets and is delivering goods and taking FedEx out of their distribution mix. Amazon is committed to Rockford, Illinois, and is expanding its operations there. Amazon is unique. E-commerce, like the dot com scam of late last century, is more wishful thinking than reality. Airports are built on facts and not windmill tilting.

If one thinks moving operations from an existing operation to a pipe-dream and firing the people who work there now is political stars aligned, I suggest getting a new star-gazer. Rockford, the third-largest city in Illinois is not going to sit quietly for that.

There is no money to build an airport. Illinois is a sinkhole state as described by the research group State Data Labs. Illinois has way more debt than assets. According to the group, Illinois has twenty-eight-billion eight-hundred-million to cover nearly two-hundred-twenty-five-billion in debt. With no will in Washington, from where will the money come?

Illinois’ population is dropping. As people leave, checking out of the state with them is the demand for flights. Chicago O’Hare used to be the world’s busiest airport is now number two. Chicago, the third-largest city in the USA may slip to the number four position in the next census.

The answer to that question of why bring this airport up now may lay twenty-miles down the road in Kankakee County.

The State of Illinois built a new exit in the middle of corn and soybean fields in rural Kankakee County roughly three miles south of Manteno, Illinois. I dubbed it the exit to nowhere. Developers painted a fantasy picture of the vast economic development that will spring up as a result of destroying soybean and corn fields for a new way on and off Interstate 57.

A year after opening the exit, there are no developments. There is only an exit looking out at the vast prairie. The charade was for the benefit of those who held options on the land or owned the property so they could sell it to the State of Illinois.  That done, an exit to nowhere came into being thanks to former Governor Bruce Rauner.

Is that same kind of scam going on?

The “build it they will come” fantasy is excellent for Hollywood movies, like Field of Dreams, but making it does not mean they will come. Without anchoring daily air services, all we have left is fertile farmland covered in cement and asphalt.

Here is the horrifying part: Governor Pritzker is committing millions of dollars to build roads to a fantasy airport when most of the existing state highways look like moonscapes. It is a waste of money that is better used improving the existing infrastructure, which is in dire need of repair or replacement.

Selling pipe-dreams is a time-honored practice of charlatans and politicians. I recognize that is a redundancy.

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