Solving Airport Congestion (9-23-1991)

O’Hare International Airport was plagued by flight delays.  On this date, solutions to the problem were being debated.

Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to expand O’Hare.  Now a Schaumburg-based business group had come out in favor of at least one new airport runway.  This brought renewed opposition from the Suburban O’Hare Commission (SOC), an alliance of a dozen municipalities east of Schaumburg.  They feared increased noise and pollution in their communities.

Municipal (Midway) Airport--1948

Municipal (Midway) Airport–1948

Everyone seemed to agree that those delays at O’Hare were intolerable.  Maybe the answer wasn’t about making the current facility bigger.  Maybe Chicago needed another airport, to go with O’Hare and Midway.  But where to put it?

Some people suggested using rural land in a place like Peotone.  Others wanted to expand the little-used Gary Regional Airport.  Mayor Daley had floated a proposal to clear an area within the Chicago city limits, near Lake Calumet.

Each of those sites had drawbacks.  Peotone was far out in the country.  Gary Regional was located in Indiana–that meant revenues would have to be shared with another state.  Building near Lake Calumet would involve uprooting hundreds of businesses and thousands of people.

Aside from a few Indiana officials, nobody seemed interested in Gary Regional.   Within Chicago itself, various business, labor, and community organizations were speaking out in favor of a Lake Calumet airport.  They felt that site made the most sense.  Nobody would travel all the way to Peotone to catch a plane.

For their part, SOC favored Peotone.  A facility there would bring economic development to an area that needed it.  SOC said a Lake Calumet airport might take 25 years to build.  In the meantime, pressure would grow to expand O’Hare.  That was something they could not allow.

Original O'Hare Airport Plan--1948

Original O’Hare Airport Plan–1948

Governor Jim Edgar had blocked any new O’Hare runways.  But suburban officials were afraid he was wavering.  “So far he’s been steadfast, saying he won’t agree to an expansion of O’Hare unless the suburbs go along with it,” observed Elk Grove Village president Charles Zattek. “I’m sure they’re bringing pressure on Governor Edgar to change his stance.”

As matters developed, the third airport was never built, not at Lake Calumet nor at Peotone.  Edgar continued to oppose O’Hare expansion until he left office in 1998.  In 2008, O’Hare began adding new runways.


2 Responses to “Solving Airport Congestion (9-23-1991)”

  1. 1 Garry September 23, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Peotone was & continues to be a financial boondoggle!
    The state has bought up huge tracts of land & there are a number of elected officials who just can’t admit it’s just a total waste of money.
    The correct solution is using Union Station or maybe a new intercity station under the currently abandoned post office & run high speed electrified trains, east to Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, south to Louisville & St. Louis west to Kansas City, Des Moines & North to Milwaukee & Minneapolis/St. Paul, with all trains going to both O’Hare & Midway, thus getting rid of all those absurd short flights, such as the 20 minute jump to Grand Rapids that United does.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt September 26, 2016 at 7:48 am

      Recent news stories suggest that high-speed, intercity rail lines are difficult to secure from terrorists. Since it’s easier—and cheaper—to have passengers herded through 2-hour TSA lines at airports, our leaders probably will stick with the status quo.

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