Gary/Chicago International Airport has long been the third major airport in Chicagoland, behind O’Hare and Midway. Though if you didn’t know that, it doesn't come as a surprise. The airport has lagged behind its neighbors across the state line for years, and at this point in time doesn’t see any passenger air traffic.
A long-gestating expansion seeks to make the airport a major transportation hub again. But an Illinois plan to build a new airport in the South Suburbs has long been in the works. Combined with the highly publicized Illiana Expressway presumably providing better transportation across state lines, such a plan could create a new major transport hub, and displace Gary as the new number three for Chicago.
But is Gary’s downfall really so imminent? On paper at least, certain factors suggest Gary might have the upper hand.
Despite some delays, Gary’s plan is currently moving forward, and has a long term plan. If it avoids any further road blocks, the planned runway expansion could be done by next year. The Illinois plan, meanwhile, is still in the land-buying stage (full details and a timetable are pretty vague).
Support for the Illinois project also seems rather lukewarm. Governor Pat Quinn supports it and the Illiana expressway, while his gubernatorial opponent Bruce Rauner’s stance is less clear. It's possible the election in November could affect the plan's standing as a legislative priority. As for the citizens of Peotone, the town of just over 4000 people that the proposed airport will occupy, I couldn’t find hard figures regarding their approval. But this was one of the first outside links on the town’s Wikipedia Page. Not a good sign. And what of Gary’s plan? It had the support of former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and seems to have the blessing of current mayor Rahn Emanuel, in addition to the support of Indiana officials.
Still, I can’t help but have the feeling that in the end, if and when the Illinois airport is built, it will win out. Simply put, an in-state airport will have more claim to a Chicago connection. And whereas Chicago is a major city, Gary is barely on the map in the national consensus.
Then again, that might be a big "if," as the project's been covered and talked about for years and seen very little progress. So for the time being, the Illinois third airport might be merely conjecture. On that level, Gary has the advantage...for now.