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Despite Emanuel’s opposition, Jackson says crowded skies require third airport

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced major new infrastructure program Thursday thincludes plans add runways O'Hare he said there'd be no

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a major new infrastructure program Thursday that includes plans to add runways at O'Hare, he said there'd be no need for a third airport near Peotone. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 31, 2012 7:16PM

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Chicago needs a third airport in its south suburbs because the city’s skies are too crowded — and a fourth runway at O’Hare Airport won’t change that.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for that fourth O’Hare runway Thursday as he outlined a $7.3 billion infrastructure plan for the city. He said the new runway could cut back on delays and boost O’Hare’s flight capacity, but he also said it would eliminate the need for a third regional airport.

“These infrastructure investments mean that, in three years, O’Hare’s capacity will grow by the size of Midway’s total capacity,” Emanuel said. “That is the same as building a third major airport for Chicago but, in my view, far more cost-effective and strategic.”

Jackson has pushed for a south suburban airport near Peotone for years and disagrees. He said in a statement Friday he supports O’Hare expansion, but even that wouldn’t create enough capacity to meet the demand.

“We are losing nearly a million operations for failure to increase and solve our airspace problem,” Jackson said. “A third airport in the south suburbs will allow more air traffic for the Chicago region.”

The administration of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was viewed as using its influence behind the scenes to delay construction of the airport. And Emanuel’s first comments on the third airport issue are significant because the FAA has said a “regional consensus” of local governments is needed before the airport can be built.

Jackson, who easily dispatched primary election challenger Debbie Halvorson earlier this month, has lately been defending his airport plan on a regular basis. Will County leaders want to control the airport if it’s built, and they’re questioning the credibility of his Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission.

But Jackson would represent the airport’s footprint for the first time if he’s re-elected under a new congressional map this fall. And in his election-night victory speech last week, he said he’d hold a “people’s groundbreaking” for the airport April 21. He also called on Gov. Pat Quinn to “build this airport now.”

A Quinn spokeswoman said the governor’s goal is to get it done as quickly as possible.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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