To the Editor:
The Illinois Policy Institute’s Brad Weisenstein recently provided a great historical rundown (Taxpayer support for Southwestern Illinois airport hits $104.3 million; Sept 6, 2019) of the sad tale of St. Clair County’s MidAmerica Airport. His more than 30 year association with the Belleville News-Democrat makes him well versed to guide this insightful trip down memory lane for this perennial big money pit.
As if to add insult to injury, the Illinois legislature recently allocated $96 million to fund a 5-mile MetroLink rail extension between Shiloh-Scott station and the airport. The rail link will replace existing dedicated MetroBus service from Shiloh-Scott station to the airport.
This long sought after project is a remnant of bygone days when MAA desired ground transportation in order to shuttle connecting passengers to/from Lambert International Airport. Why legislators would choose to fund this project at this late stage has left many St. Clair County taxpayers scratching their heads.
Only one niche airline currently operates at MAA, with its direct flights either originating or terminating at the airport. To accommodate those passengers MAA has already greatly expanded their on-airport parking and added a reasonable, at least by Lambert standards, $5 per day parking fee.
Once the rail extension is complete, potential users could notionally include airport workers and airline passengers. Passengers that choose to leave their vehicles at other MetroLink stations, where parking is free, will cut into any future on-airport parking profits.
Local praise and confidence for this now-funded project has been tepid at best. The best St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern could offer in support of the project was that Allegiant Airlines’ increasing use of the county-owned airport in recent years makes the MetroLink extension “more feasible.” Taulby Roach, the president and chief executive officer of Bi-State Development said of Tim Cantwell, the MAA director, “His parking lots have been filling in. Maybe our future is brighter out there.”
It’s always great to bring major construction projects to the local area but in this case the economic impact may be short-lived. It would be ideal to complete a project that would then pay dividends for years to come. This project could play out more like Alaska’s Gravina Island “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was funded, built, but seldom used. Don’t give reason to bring NBC News back for still another “Fleecing of America” segment in the future.
Meanwhile Illinois taxpayers can only wonder how many critically needed road and bridge repairs could have been accomplished with $96 million. Contrary to what some politicians in Springfield may think, Illinois funds are finite necessitating that every tax dollar count.
Bill Malec, O’Fallon, Ill.