More for than against Lake Calumet airport
By NICK PANAGAKIS
Community opposition to a third Chicago airport in the city's Lake Calumet area has dominated news coverage since the site was proposed early this year by Mayor Richard M. Daley. Although more vocal opponents have made the skies over Lake Calumet seem unfriendly, our polls show a surprisingly low level of opposition to the site and sharp differences of opinion depending on age.
A bi-state group had been narrowing its choice for another airport among four sites outside the city when the Lake Calumet site was proposed. The four other sites include one on the Indiana-Illinois border in Will County, another in Will County, one in Kankakee County, and one at the Gary, Ind., Regional Airport.
Our polls on the Lake Calumet site included one in the city that contains the site: 180 residents in the southeast corner of the city — east of Cottage Grove and south of 95th Street, which includes most of the 10th Ward and over half of the 9th. The other poll was outside the city, south and west of the site: 1,000 residents in south suburban Cook County, including Thornton Township, the area immediately south of the proposed site. Both polls included questions on the proposed Lake Calumet airport site.
The profile of the tens of millions of air passengers who travel to Chicago also has a bearing on which site would be best.
In the poll of the Chicago southeast side residents, people who support a third airport near Lake Calumet actually outnumber those who are opposed, 35 percent to 30 percent. The issue is contentious, and most opinions are strongly held: 22 percent strongly favor and 24 percent strongly oppose. A significant 25 percent say they have not yet heard enough about the airport to have an opinion. Another 10 percent are ambivalent. So over one-third need more details before reaching a conclusion.
Because one-third have not made up their minds, the potential for future support for a Lake Calumet airport could be greater since the specifics have not been revealed — economic benefits, noise abatement measures and compensation to homeowners — while the reasons for opposition have been highly publicized.
Even among 109 interviews completed in the city neighborhoods closest to the site, Hegewisch and East Side, opinion was anything but one-sided, 35 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed.
Neither homeownership nor race made a difference. In the poll of southeast Chicago residents, renters favor the airport, 35 percent to 27 percent, but so do homeowners, 36 percent to 31 percent. Support among black and white residents is also about the same.
Age does make a difference. In the city poll, people under 55 strongly favor the Lake Calumet airport, 44 percent to 24 percent, but older residents oppose it. Of those over 55, 41 percent are opposed and 25 percent in favor. We speculate that older age groups are more likely to remember the community as it once was when Chicago had a robust manufacturing economy. Younger people look to the future, a future which will depend on a service economy. The future for the area would be economically brighter with a new airport.
In the Chicago sample, 69 percent concede that the airport would represent a general economic boost for the area. The younger the person, the stronger their belief in the economic benefits. Significantly, 12 percent in the Chicago sample say they personally would gain financially from a new airport. The airport is a pocketbook issue to one in six people under 55. Personal financial gain is expected by 16 percent of those under 55 and by 17 percent of all black residents.
In the Thornton Township portion of the suburban poll, opinion divides east and west. To the east in the Burnham-Calumet
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City-Lansing corridor, which is closest to the site, there is two-to-one opposition. Opinion in Riverdale-Harvey to the west was evenly divided, 40 percent for and 42 percent against.
Bremen Township residents (west of Thornton) narrowly favor a Lake Calumet airport, 41 percent to 39 percent. The further west, the stronger the support: in Worth Township, 45 percent to 28 percent, and in Palos, 41 percent to 31 percent.
The effect of age was the same in the suburban area as in the city.
The suburban poll included political party preference: Suburban Democrats favor a Lake Calumet airport by 46 percent to 32 percent, a mirror-image of Republicans who are opposed, 48 percent to 30 percent.
Chicago is currently losing flights to other markets because O'Hare and Midway airports are operating at full capacity. A third airport is intended to regain lost air traffic and capture a greater share of the future market.
Market research on Chicago air passengers gives some direction on which site would be most attractive to airlines. According to passenger studies, business travelers are frequent flyers and in an average day occupy over half of all airline seats. Airlines depend on them even more for revenue because business travelers book their flights closer to departure dates and pay more for tickets. Our poll of southeast Chicago residents found only 7 percent had flown for business reasons in the past year.
Half of all air passengers are ''connecting" passengers, landing in Chicago but never leaving the airports. The number of connecting passengers will depend on whether a third airport attracts enough airlines and enough flights. The other half divides between people who live in the Chicago area and people flying to Chicago as their destination.
None of the sites for a third airport is as attractive to large numbers of business travelers who live in the Chicago area as is O'Hare. The only segment of the air passenger market where the third airport can initially compete more effectively with O'Hare is the Chicago destination air traveler. The advantage in this competition belongs to the Lake Calumet site, the only site closer to the Loop than O'Hare.
Nick Panagakis is president of Market Shares Corporation, headquartered in Mount Prospect.
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