Thursday, January 22, 2009

Will County Illinois has its own version of the "Bridge to Nowhere"

Fund request includes local version of 'Bridge to Nowhere'

As part of its $26 million federal request for roads, infrastructure, and safety projects, in advance of President Barack Obama's potential stimulus bill, Will County included a request for funding for planning for a proposed Peotone airport.

The government throwing money at this ill-conceived, unlikely-to-be-completed project might be described as Will County's own version of the 'Bridge to Nowhere.'

Perhaps the project might be more aptly named, 'Flight to Nowhere.'

While there are some very worthwhile and even perhaps critical projects included in the funding request, funds for the 'Flight to Nowhere' is not among them. And perhaps the project should enjoy the same fate as the bridge.

In 2005, the U.S. Congress nixed the $398 million 'Bridge to Nowhere'. It would have served only 50 residents. The bridge was to connect Ketchikan, Alaska to the sparsely populated Gravina Island.
The project, which caused ample embarrassment to the U.S. Congress, was considered the epitome of wasteful spending.

It became the proverbial poster child for congressional earmarks, those eleventh-hour additions tacked-on to federal spending bills by individual congressmen, seeking perks for their districts, usually as a means for getting re-elected. Ever since earmarks became a household word, they have been scrutinized, even though some of those too, represented worthwhile projects. The problem is that many were not.

As is customary, Will County sends its annual request for funding to the federal government. And almost habitually, the request includes funding for the 'Flight to Nowhere.'

Not all habits are good. And this may be one case where change is needed.

With the exception of some political maneuvering, there has been no forward movement on 'Flight to Nowhere' since yet another new map was submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration last March. Who can count all the maps that have been submitted over the past 20 years that the project has been in its perpetual planning phase?

No maps, no matter how skillfully drawn; tax dollars from every level of government; or lofty rhetoric from boosters; has been able to accomplish what a successful airport requires — a federal declaration of need, airlines who will use it, and passengers who want it.

According to a Will County press release, the portion of the $26 million request includes nearly half a million dollars for airport planning. Is continued planning for this boondoggle really the best use of $500,000 of Will County funds?
The Will County release claims that funds would develop a multi-jurisdictional land-use plan that would ensure regional benefits of growth while minimizing any adverse impacts.

This habitual language in Will County's request fails to consider that legislation to establish a development district for which a multi-jurisdictional land use plan would consider, does not exist. It languishes in the rules committee of the Illinois House.

The release states that the development plan was devised by Will County along with the Villages of Beecher, Crete, Peotone, Monee, and University Park.

How long ago was that plan written? How many changes have taken place in the affected communities that have not been incorporated into the plan? Is Will County even aware that these five communities that once held regular meetings may no longer share common concerns?

The planning funds include a 6-township multi-jurisdictional land-use plan. Is that even feasible? It wasn't according to former Transportation Secretary Timothy Martin, who said the ultimate build-out of an airport larger than O'Hare would not happen in his lifetime. Even a scaled-down version looks like an impossibility.
The press release says the federally-funded plan would take into account all types of developments based on the future growth of the communities and airport.

Too bad this funding request failed to consider reality.

  • There is no airport project;
  • There is no enabling legislation for a development district;
  • The five towns that once worked together no longer speak to one another;
  • Will County, like the rest of the country, is in the midst of a recession;
  • And, air travel is lower than it has been for 15 years, due to the negative economy.
So, is requesting another $500,000 to plan for an unneeded project that has failed to advance from the drawing board in its 20-year existence, a wise use of funds?
Perhaps Will County should realize its perennial request for funding is sorely outdated and represents nothing more than a 'Flight to Nowhere.'
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