Will County Control versus the ALNAC Concept

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

By Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

Under traditional airport financing models, cities have built runways at all major airports. Runway construction costs have always been passed on to the taxpayers as a major subsidy to the aviation industry. The problem, mayors and cities can no longer pass these costs on to taxpayers without a major revolt. Taxpayers simply oppose the subsidy nor can afford to continue being milked.

Terminals, meanwhile, historically have been built by the airlines. At O’Hare, for example, United and American have their own terminals, as do the major carriers at most major airports. Of course, there are benefits to the airline industry owning their own terminals. Primarily, they get to lock out competition in the marketplace. When your gate is K 17 or C-26 at O’Hare and you walk past all those empty gates, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

However antiquated, this is the traditional model for building airports in the United States. Cities build runways and airlines build terminals. However, because most cities are in deficit spending, experiencing cutbacks and layoffs, and because most traditional air carriers are cash strapped, it is no wonder that no new airport has been built in the United States in 42 years – even though there’s been a steady increase in capacity needs. This “traditional funding concept" is what Will County wants to control, and for four decades they have been waiting for an airline to jumpstart their vision. Good luck to them over the next four decades.

Recently, prominent low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines, Virgin America and JetBlue all expressed their desire and need to expand their presence in the Chicago marketplace. But all noted that there is no room to expand at O’Hare or Midway. That’s why we need a third airport.

The Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) isn’t just about control, it’s a different vision and, more importantly, a different financial "concept" than the traditional model. Because south suburban communities cannot afford to finance a $200-million, 12,000-foot runway, and because traditional airlines cannot presently afford to build terminals (and low-cost carrier airlines have never built terminals), ALNAC has assembled an innovative public-private partnership financial structure. The ALNAC airport "concept" allows the airport to be constructed without burdening cities with runway costs or carriers with terminal development burdens.

The 21 municipal governments of ALNAC own this concept, they understand this concept, and they are like-thinking partners with private developers to design, finance, construct and operate this airport at no cost or risk to taxpayers. ALNAC is not looking for leadership, but it welcomes partnership. However, it will accept no one to its board who doesn’t fully understand it.

In fact, the sides couldn’t be further apart. Will County has passed three resolutions against ALNAC and ALNAC has passed an ordinance allowing its negotiators to only negotiate with Quinn and no one else. ALNAC’s concept is protected by three different confidentiality agreements with the State of Illinois and ALNAC insists they be enforced.

The rewards to all Southland communities are worth fighting to protect – 1,000 construction jobs by June, 15,000 permanent jobs within 2 years. O’Hare Airport is built on 7,000 acres. The ALNAC footprint is 25,000 acres, which will allow the concept to expand and create 300,000 jobs over the next three decades.

Once the governor enters into a land lease with ALNAC’s 21 home-rule governments, it would then be appropriate for ALNAC to enter into an intergovernmental agreement on local infrastructure needs and concerns with Will County and local governments on mutually agreeable projects that impact the efficient operation of the facility and the facility’s impact on local communities with in the Second congressional District where the airport is located.

As the only federal appropriator in the U.S. House from Illinois, these are federal projects that are likely to require my attention anyway. Most of our State Senators and State representatives do not understand the delicate nature of this concept, which is why I vehemently oppose the involvement of the state legislature. They can only mess it up under their "old airport control" thinking.

Our developers are capable of building an airport that Will County or the State can control, but Will County and the State will have to pay for that model. If the Governor embraces the ALNAC concept, SNC-Lavalin and LCOR are willing to invest their own money and this investment is guaranteed by the Government of Canada.

I have called for a "peoples’ ground breaking" at the footprint of the new airport on April 21, which as a result of redistricting is now entirely in the Second Congressional District, because our persisting unemployment problems can no longer wait for politicians who do not understand this new concept in aviation and job creation. You choose!