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Three legislators push for cargo airport for South Suburbs

Three legislators representing Homewood and Flossmoor are working to get a cargo airport built in the south suburbs.

Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) sponsored HB2531 with support from Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin (D-Olympia Fields) and Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights). The bill would direct the State of Illinois to prepare and issue a request for qualifications to seek proposals from the private sector for a cargo-based South Suburban Airport as a public-private sector partnership.

The House State Government Administration Committee gave unanimous support to the legislation at a hearing on Wednesday, March 1. The bill now moves to the full House.

The three have been working with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce, COAL Coalition, the South Suburban Action Conference and the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation. For the hearing, more than 280 proponents, including mayors representing 26 South Suburbs, registered support for the bill.

Homewood and Flossmoor residents have heard about a proposed airport in Peotone for decades. The state already owns approximately 90 percent of the property. 

Originally labeled Chicago’s Third Airport the original proposal was to alleviate the limitations of Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports for passenger flights. Capacity at both airports topped out in 2000 and they are landlocked. 

But Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley fought another airport project outside the city limits and developed a partnership with Gary, Indiana, that cut off any chance of Illinois approving airport expansion.

The emphasis on a cargo airport changes the dynamic.

“It makes sense. The world has changed in the last four or five years with massive growth in ecommerce as well as manufacturing companies that need special parts flown it,” said Reggie Greenwood of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation. 

“The economics of it are driven by cargo, and that can be seen in our region, the massive growth that we have here. The last few years there’s millions of dollars in new investment in our region,” he said.

Cargo operators, like Amazon and UPS, are using Rockford Airport. There is nothing comparable in the area south of the Chicago city center. Some air cargo work has shifted to the Chicago-Gary Airport, but that airport is landlocked. Major metropolitan areas across the country prefer to have at least two cargo airports, said Rick Bryant, senior adviser for U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) who represents Homewood and Flossmoor in Congress.

“Chicago has a great air cargo hub in Rockford, but most of the major distribution centers are located down south because of our proximity to all the rail and road intersections here. The South Suburban Airport is the perfect location,” Bryant said. “We already have the roads. We already have the rails. We even have the rivers. The airport would be like the keystone of the arch that holds everything together.  A cargo/industrial airport would make the Southland a mega multi-modal hub for international business.”

Greenwood said airport supporters see the cargo airport as an economic engine. The private sector development could be more than $1 billion of new industrial development and 50,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the airport.

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