Viewpoint: Airport issue finally ignites

Viewpoint: Airport issue finally ignites

By Joe Baker

Airport issue finally ignites

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

It’s interesting the way some issues catch fire while others never even smolder. Take our airport, for example.

The Rock River Times and Larry Morrissey have been lamenting our underutilized airport for years. Finally, a month ago, the other media began talking about the potential for the local field and urging some action. Today we have everyone from congressmen to the governor, on down to the other mayoral candidates and the business community jumping on the bandwagon.

In fact, quite a delegation of local luminaries was in Washington, D.C. Tuesday meeting with Norman Mineta, the U.S. Transportation Secretary.

Their message was simple: Rockford has a full-service airport, ready now to relieve congestion at O’Hare and provide better passenger service for northwestern Illinois.

They also met with Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation.

Federal transportation officials last week labeled O’Hare the most congested and delayed airport in the nation. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, said then that officials need to consider using existing airports with immediate capacity to help relieve the jam-up at O’Hare.

Rep. Don Manzullo noted taxpayers have paid more than $50 million for improvements to Greater Rockford Airport. They include a 10,000-foot runway, an instrument landing system and a terminal that can be expanded to handle up to 15 million passengers annually.

“I believe we should take full advantage of our investment at the Greater Rockford Airport and the other under-used airports in the Chicago region before we spend money on new infrastructure,” Manzullo told Mineta.

Gov. George (“let’s promote Peotone”) Ryan did an about face and began urging consideration of Rockford’s airport to take some of the overflow from O’Hare.

Even Kirk Brown, Illinois Secretary of Transportation, who, until yesterday was opposed to development of the local airport, wrote letters to the chief executives of American and United airlines, urging them to seriously consider using Rockford Airport.

The Council of 100 awoke from its slumber and produced a fairly slick marketing brochure which does a pretty good job of

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promoting the local facility. Too bad it took a lot of complaining and needling to get results. Look out, Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport; we may catch up to you.

Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald have lent their support to Manzullo’s efforts. So did the mayors of surrounding communities. Notably, there was no letter from Rockford Mayor Charles Box, Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn, Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg, or Machesney Park Village President Steve Kuhn—all appoint members of the airport board—in the packet for Washington, D.C.!

What brought about this abrupt shift of position by our Republican national and state legislators? Was it the worsening travail of air travel in this country? The eruption of congressional wrath toward the airlines, stemming from lawmakers’ frustrations in dealing with the airlines? Or maybe a political deal between local politicians and the governor? What about a push for the Republican candidate for mayor of Rockford?

That’s the old, elemental political maxim: “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Probably all of these factors influenced the change in attitude.

Whatever the reason, we now seem to stand at the edge of opportunity. Let us pray that the momentum continues and that GRA becomes the economic engine for the region that it is capable of being. With a little organized effort and persistence, we could be seeing a truly functional airport in a few months, with a growing stream of passengers heading to our terminal instead of O’Hare’s.

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