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Airport southeast of Chicago could bring 200,000 jobs

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Illinois officials have agreed on a site for a new regional airport that could bring 200,000 jobs to the city's economically depressed Southeast Side and ease traffic at O'Hare International.

The agreement reached Thursday between Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley should give the site straddling the Indiana-Illinois line near Lake Calumet the winning edge for the $10.8-billion airport.

Indiana officials prefer a site in Gary, Ind., about 10 miles away. But Edgar and Daley between them control seven of the 11 votes on a two-state commission that will recommend the final site to the U.S. Transportation Department.

The commission is scheduled to vote on Monday. Federal officials have said they will abide by the commission's consensus.

"This agreement marks the start of the economic revival of Chicago, Illinois and Indiana," said Daley, an early backer of the site.

Edgar did not support it as late as Wednesday but signed on after receiving concessions on control of a regional airport authority that will oversee O'Hare and Midway airports as well as the new one.

"Everyone recognizes the importance of a third airport," said Edgar, who announced the agreement at a news conference with Daley.

Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh expressed disappointment with Edgar's decision.

"The vote on the committee apparently will break strictly along state lines," he said.

An airport near Lake Calumet would benefit northwest Indiana economically, said William Moreau, Bayh's special counsel. But he said Bayh sees Gary as a better site because it would cost less to build there.

Consultants have estimated it would cost $3.7-billion to remove hazardous waste from the polluted 9,800-acre Lake Calumet site.

The site selection committee previously had rejected three proposed rural sites in Illinois. That left only the Lake Calumet site and Gary.

O'Hare, northwest of Chicago, is the nation's busiest airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It handled 315-million passengers on 810,000 departures and arrivals in 1990. The FAA has predicted O'Hare could see 420-million passengers a year by the end of the decade.

Both southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana have been hit hard by the decline of the steel industry. Daley predicted the airport would create 200,000 jobs but didn't say what type of jobs would be involved.

The new airport is not expected to be completed for at least 10 years.