Waukegan National Airport

LCTA supports the widening of IDOT’s IL Rte 131 (Green Bay Rd) from Sunset Ave to the Wisconsin State Line as part of the Lake County State Highway Consensus Widening List. IL Rte 131 traverses, and infringes into, the western edge of the Waukegan National Airport operated by the Waukegan Port District. LCTA supports the on-going Master Plan and Environmental Assessment for the airport.

The Economic Value of the Airport

You’re never going to take a commercial passenger flight out of the Waukegan National Airport, but one might be surprised to learn how vital it is to the economic engine of Lake County. The airport serves an impressive list of Chicagoland’s corporate entities.

The airport has two assets that are essential for corporate use:

  1. The airport can accommodate the larger corporate aircraft with its current 6,000-foot runway
  2. The airport is utilized as a US Port of Entry, via an on-site Custom’s agent, for local and regional companies that fly internationally

These assets enable the airport to support nearly 700 jobs, with a total payroll of $33 million, and a total economic output of $130 million.

The Future Needs of the Airport

The ongoing master planning for the airport is detailing what it will take to hold onto and improve the airport’s two assets into the future. The airport needs construction improvements to stay current with FAA regulations. A 7,000-foot runway is needed to allow full operations by existing aircraft. Buffer areas are needed to fully meet FAA criteria for runway safety areas, object-free area and obstruction surface area. The planning work to date is generally depicted on a drawing that can be viewed by clicking here.

A new 7,000 foot runway is proposed to be built and the existing runway converted to the taxiway. The difficulty comes down to removing the infringement of IL Rte 131 at the western edge of the airport. Even for the existing runway length, IL 131 must be either relocated or a grade separation (i.e. a viaduct) be furnished.

IDOT Preliminary Engineering Study for IL Rte 131

Fortunately, IDOT has a preliminary engineering study underway regarding the future improvement of IL Rte 131 from Sunset Ave to the Wisconsin State Line. The results of this study will determine the type of roadway to be built and its location. IDOT’s study involves coordination with the many stakeholders along the route, including the airport and the forest preserve district. The most likely recommendation is to have IL Rte 131 essentially stay on current alignment and cross under the new runway and taxiway in separate viaducts. IDOT’s current schedule is targeting the presentation of the preferred alternative at the final public meeting in the spring of 2015.

Convergence of the Two Planning Studies

Because of the interlocking constraints the airport and the roadway present to the improvement of the other, the reality is that each owner-entity needs to work with the other to finalize their final improvement plan. The intertwined coordination required is complex and not to be underestimated. It involves not only the ultimate plan for each entity’s facility but also the staging to ultimately collectively achieve them. What happens first? How can the improvements be staged over several years? What are the costs? What is clear is that the option of doing nothing is not something that the business climate of Lake County can afford.

Major Capital Funding is Needed

A 6.5 mile reconstructed and widened IL Rte 131 roadway will cost tens of millions of dollars. Add in two viaducts with pumping stations and lighting; that will take tens of millions more. A new 7,000-foot runway?  That will cost tens of millions. How will all this ever happen? It is a tall order for sure.

Major investments such as these need advocates when the periodic federal and state capital funding programs for the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Authority, IDOT Division of Highways and IDOT Division of Aeronautics are periodically considered by the respective legislative bodies: the US Congress and the Illinois General Assembly. 

The general rule is "what gets funded is what is ready to be funded." So it is imperative that the planning work by IDOT and the Waukegan National Airport be finalized as soon as possible.