Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Peotone versus O'Hare

The curtain has been drawn on airport rhetoric recently. That is, at least until the potential for an influx of federal cash to aid the O'Hare Modernization program took center stage this week.

Now it is lights, camera, and action, as the U.S. Congress agrees on a $789 billion economic stimulus plan that could include funds for O'Hare.

While there is no proof that O'Hare funds did make it into the stimulus package as of this writing, it is known that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the stimulus bill.

Daley was flanked by a host of Democratic leaders who pushed for Illinois' share of the stimulus package for myriad blue-collar workers. Daley's concerns include the CTA, community colleges, the park district, streetlights, and sewers.

Daley indicated, according to published reports, that $50 million would keep the O'Hare Modernization Plan on track. Without it, the program might fall behind the scheduled 2014 completion date, just two years before the 2016 Summer Olympics.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, who felt the stimulus bill should focus on job creation, was one of the House members who voted for the initial appropriation that would have included $30 billion for highway construction, $31 billion to modernize public infrastructure, $3 billion for airport improvements, and $10 billion for public transit and rail.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Chicago, who initially voted against the stimulus package as did other members of the Republican Party, suggested using all the money allotted to Illinois for O'Hare expansion.

As has been consistent during the past twenty years, whenever O'Hare funds are discussed, talk about Peotone cannot be far behind.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., was not among the Illinois delegation that favors using stimulus funds for O'Hare expansion. In fact Jackson specifically stated that no stimulus funds should be used for O'Hare.

Instead, Jackson claims Peotone is a better project and can be built without stimulus money.

He claims Peotone is a better alternative to adding 100,000 flights toIllinois, and that O'Hare expansion will cost $20 billion while Peotone will cost only $500 million. And he notes that Peotone would be built with money from private investors, not taxpayers.

With the exception of the constant massaging of pie-in-the-sky projections, little is available to back up Jackson's claims, however. Jackson never mentions that the Federal Aviation Administration has not approved building his pet project. His rants are silent about efforts by what would be the hosting county -- Will County -- to provide governance if an airport is built. Will County's plans are in direct competition with Jackson's self-appointed airport authority, the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission. And his arguments are void of discussion about the millions of dollars that additional infrastructure would cost to access an airport in a farm community with its one-lane network of country roads.

Jackson's voice is not alone. While he is the soloist, the real music comes from the backup chorus – the long-standing opponents of O'Hare expansion, including Bensenville President John Geils and Attorney Joseph Karaganis. The latest website devoted to O'Hare expansion opposition is Stop the O'Hare Modernization Program.

But when President Obama called for an economic stimulus package that would include "shovel-ready" projects that would create jobs, the O'Hare Modernization program fills the bill.

The stimulus package approved by the House was originally $819 billion. The Senate approved an $838 billion version of the bill. The two finally settled on a compromise of $789 billion.
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