Happy Landings Officials dedicate long-awaited FAA tower at Lewis Airport

 Two Lewis University Aviation students enjoy the view from the new FAA tower at the Lewis University Airport in Romeoville. The $8.2 million, eight-story tower, below, will be operational next month.
Two Lewis University Aviation students enjoy the view from the new FAA tower at the Lewis University Airport in Romeoville. The $8.2 million, eight-story tower, below, will be operational next month.

By Nick Reiher

Since the Joliet Regional Port District took over the airport at Lewis University in 1989, the facility has grown, both through the school’s already 50-year-old aviation program and a burgeoning number of clients using the airport.
Lewis University Airport in Romeoville now boasts more than 1,000 acres near Illinois 53 and Renwick Road, two jet-class runways and more than 100,000 takeoffs and landings each year.
“What was missing for the airport was a traffic cop,” said David Silverman, chairman of the Joliet Port District Board. “Now, we will have one on the top of that tower.”
“That tower” is the new $8.2 million, eight-story Federal Aviation Administration control tower dedicated November 14, witnessed by dozens of federal, state and local officials, many of whom had a hand in delivering the project after more than 15 years.
Make that permanent tower. Not like the mobile RV control center the port district rented at $50,000 a pop for special occasions, such as when NASCAR drivers jetted into town for races at the now-dormant Chicagoland Speedway.
While the Joliet Regional Port District, which oversees the airport, will own the tower, Chris Lawson, longtime Aviation Director at the airport, said the FAA will train and pay the air traffic controllers, which amounts to about $600,000 a year. The tower will include a controller training room on the sixth floor, he added.
He has said the plan is to have FAA-trained controllers on duty from 7 a.m. until about 8 p.m., when traffic at the airport goes way down.
But with more and more traffic during the day, airport officials wanted to make sure they could avoid a tragedy such as the horrific two-plane crash in 1996 at the Quincy, IL, airport, where 12 were killed. An FAA control tower could have prevented that crash, officials say.

Omar Osman, left, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary, chats with former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, who was able to secure $6 million in state capital funds to build the tower.

With that in their minds, airport officials worked for years to satisfy FAA requirements for funding a permanent control tower. They solicited lobbying help, and funding, from Will County, as well as Romeoville and surrounding communities.
FAA official Elliott Black was on hand at the Nov. 14 ceremony to congratulate airport officials, as well as recount the lobbying efforts he witnessed when local traveled to Washington, D.C.
Some 30 local representatives crowded into a conference room to show their support for the control tower, he said, among the largest groups he had seen visiting to make their case.
Former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski told the crowd Romeoville Mayor John Noak mentioned the tower as one of the most important projects for the region when they first met after his district changed to include Romeoville.
Despite the need, federal transportation funds were hard to get for many years, first because of a lack of a long-term transportation bill, and then because of the loss of entitlements for representatives for several years.
Finally, Lipinski was able to get the $6 million included among infrastructure projects in the state’s $45 billion Capital Bill in 2019, and plans started to come together, with construction beginning in mid-2021. The tower will be operational some time in December, Lawson said.
The safety concern is paramount for all who use the airport, officials said, including the corporations eying the facility in preparation for setting up headquarters here.
Already 20 Fortune 500 companies own and operate aircraft and have offices and plants within 30 minutes of the airport. Lawson has said a private company will be building a school on the site for higher-tech aircraft.
“This project was a true community effort that will provide safety and service to air travelers from all over the globe for the first time in Will County,” Lawson said.

Aviation students couldn’t get enough of the surroundings in the control tower.

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