IDOT issues RFI for new Chicago airport

The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking input for the development of South Suburban Airport, a project it may procure as a P3.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from airport developers, investors, operators as well as passenger and freight air carriers, in structuring a business plan for the South Suburban Airport which it will most likely procure as a public-private partnership (PPP; P3), according to a statement.

The Illinois General Assembly authorised IDOT to build the new airport in partnership with the private sector by passing Senate Bill 20 (SB 20) in May 2013.

To date, IDOT has paid $85.85 million to acquire 3,857 acres of the 5,800 acres needed for the project. Should the project be realised it will be the first ever greenfield airport P3 in the US.

The South Suburban Airport (SSA) would be located in Peotone, Illinois, a suburb 40 miles south of downtown Chicago.

According to a document issued by Will County, where Peotone is located, SB 20 is based on the public-private agreements for the Illiana Expressway, a $1.3 billion toll road project linking Indiana with Illinois, which both states are procuring as separate P3s.

While Will County refers to SSA as the third airport to serve the Chicago metropolitan area, another airport in the region has already laid claim to that title. In October 2013, a 40-year lease was awarded to a consortium teaming airport operator AvPorts and Guggenheim Partners for the Gary, Indiana International Airport, an existing air field located 30 miles south of Chicago and about 40 miles east and north of Peotone.

Under the agreement, the private sector partner will invest $100 million over the term of the lease, but is required to invest $25 million in the first three years. It has yet to be determined whether the Gary/Indiana airport will operate as a commercial airport or whether it will be more of a general aviation hub, serving freight, cargo and private airlines.

The RFI for SSA comes nearly a year after a second attempt to privatise Midway Airport, the second-largest airfield in the Chicago metropolitan area after O’Hare, failed.

In January 2013, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel set the process in motion but by September terminated the procurement after five of the six shortlisted bidders dropped out.

The first failed attempt happened under former mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009 when the Citigroup-led consortium awarded the 99-year lease could not make good on the $2.5 billion agreement.