Thursday, May 31, 2012

IDOT Crystal ball failed in 2010

Chicago Skyline 2008
Chicago Skyline (Photo credit: TomC)
Perhaps time flies, but it is doubtful that the South Suburban Airport ever will.

By now, a new airport south of Chicago was supposed to have not only been up and running, but was supposed to be wildly successful, giving credit to thousands of jobs that would make the Chicago region "recession-proof." Those were the actual words they used to describe the benefit of a new airport south of Chicago.

The year 2010 was a very important one in the life of the "third airport," (South Suburban Airport, Peotone Airport, and Abraham Lincoln National Airport) all names for the same project, by the way.

Back in the early 1980's, IDOT and other supporters of a new airport claimed that by 2010 it would be evident that a new airport was needed. O'Hare and Midway were supposed to be bursting at the seams with no possibilities of expansion.

The excuses never really panned out. Consultants reasoned that Midway was landlocked, so it couldn't be expanded. As far as O'Hare was concerned, its neighbors would prevent any improvements there. Wrong on both counts!

IDOT Consultants Suhail and Marjorie al Chalabi Group, Ltd.—the husband and wife team that have made a fine living making predictions for the State of Illinois—probably could have used a little glass cleaner on their crystal ball, since the passage of time proved that most of their ambitious prognostications were incorrect.

In fact, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the City of Chicago, O'Hare International Airport handled 33.2 million enplaned passengers in 2010 or roughly 66 million people. The al Chalabi's predicted that by 2010, the region would handle 141 million passengers.

The crystal ball is as cracked, as the early foundation on which this whole airport plan was erected.

Back in 1987, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, which remains an ardent airport booster, was then led by Beth Ruyle, its Executive Director. Her husband Craig Hullinger was a planner in many of the towns she represented, as well as in Will County.

Ruyle was credited with putting pressure on what was then two different planning-related organizations—the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) to include the "third airport" in its 2010 transportation plan.

CATS was the metropolitan planning organization in those days, planning, programming and implementing transportation improvements throughout the region, as well as acting as the pass through agency for state and federal dollars, for the seven counties surrounding Chicago. NIPC created planning documents and studies associated with growth such as transportation, air and water pollution, and land use, etc. in those same collar counties. The two agencies merged in 2005 to become the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, (CMAP).

Back in the late 1980's, CATS and NIPC were the blood that pumped in the heart of the "third airport." Recognizing the potential airport and incorporating it into the 2010 transportation plan was the first order of business for Ruyle and her pro-airport pals. Using the information from the Chicago Airport Capacity Study as backup, By January 1989, Ruyle and several of the mayors represented by her organization convinced planners to include the airport into the 2010 transportation plan. They refused until a single site was chosen.

That made site selection a priority for transportation planners, which gave purpose to the next study, which resulted in the Illinois-Indiana Regional Airport Study, completed in 1992.

What airport supporters never counted on, was the policy committee from Illinois, Indiana, and Chicago would reject Peotone as the best location for an airport. They chose an urban site—Lake Calumet as proposed by the City of Chicago. The next in line was the existing Gary Regional Airport.

Interestingly, it was ex-Illinois Governor George Ryan, the same man who authorized the first land purchases for an airport that is not yet approved, cast the deciding vote against Peotone. Ryan is now in jail, convicted of several crimes against the people of Illinois.

Since that all-important year, 2010, has passed unceremoniously, perhaps the airport project ought to do the same.