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Date: 8/5/2004

Copyright Digital Chicago, Inc.

 

Peotone, diverting flights to Gary, Rockford not on table 

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WASHINGTON -- When it comes to a quick fix for record delays at O'Hare Airport, a new airport near Peotone and additional flights at Gary and Rockford are not part of the immediate solutions under consideration.

Federal authorities want the airlines serving O'Hare to volunteer to change their schedules by November to reduce peak-hour operations.

Diverting flights to Gary or Rockford is not part of the conversation, though an anti-O'Hare expansion group, the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, said in a statement that it should be.

Representatives from Gary and Rockford airports did not have a seat at the table at the nation's first-ever O'Hare gridlock summit called by U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

Chicago's Aviation Department was allowed in the meetings organized by the Federal Aviation Administration because the city operates O'Hare.

"What the FAA recognizes is that they simply can't impose rules from Washington without involving local airports," said John Roberson, Chicago's aviation commissioner, "because we are the people that have to deal with these issues on a day-to-day basis."

The FAA has been studying a proposal for a third airport near Peotone for years. And Wednesday, FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey suggested that the State of Illinois is letting the project fall through the cracks.

The federal government has already provided some funding to study the south suburban airport plan, and Blakey said the FAA analysis remains in an "early stage." She said "it is proceeding very smoothly."

"At this point, we are also looking to the state to guide us on the overall issue of who will have leadership on that project," Blakey said.

Peotone is "a part of the solution" to long-term capacity growth, Blakey said. "When you look at long-term solutions, it is about pavement, there is no question about it. And we applaud the efforts of the entire region in looking to solutions of that type."

On Gary, she said, "I think it is a regional solution that is all a part of it. But I can't stress enough, O'Hare itself is critical."

Peotone got a boost in 2001 when former Gov. George Ryan and Mayor Daley cut a deal to allow O'Hare expansion plans to go forward if at the same time a green light was given to consider a third airport near Peotone.

Proponents of that third airport have lined up private investors to get the project off the ground and are using, as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) did Tuesday, this latest chapter in O'Hare gridlock to argue for swifter federal action.