CHICAGO'S RELIEVER AIRPORT. That Hiawatha stop near Mitchell Field is going to get more work.

The expansion of choices at Mitchell means residents of Northern Illinois can take advantage of prices wrought by competition without having to travel through O'Hare, one of the busiest and most congested airports in the world.

O'Hare ranked dead last for on-time departures in 2007 (66%) and 2008 (68%) among the 32 largest U.S. airports, according to federal statistics. For January to April of this year, O'Hare ranked fourth-worst for on-time departures with 77%.

Mitchell doesn't have enough traffic to be ranked among the major airports, but its traffic grew by more than 25% from 2003 to 2008. However, traffic has fallen somewhat during the economic slowdown. That's true industrywide.

"You guys are going to have an airfare war, no question," said Rudy Maxa, a consumer travel writer and broadcaster who is host of The Savvy Traveler on public radio and a number of travel shows on public television. He also runs a travel blog.

I heard the Milwaukee County Executive this morning talking to Rockford about the advantages of flying out of Milwaukee rather than Rockford or O'Hare, as one of many attractions for State Line residents. (He also mentioned easier access to Cub games when they play at Miller Park, as if more beer-swilling widebodies spoiling for a fight are desirable.)

Consider this as another high-speed rail project, perhaps for the future. Until 1965, Rockford had passenger train service to Milwaukee, an early-morning to Milwaukee, late-evening to Rockford residual of the overnight Southwest Limited. The route passed through Delavan and Sturtevant, where it joined the existing Hiawatha route. Perhaps a train from Rockford to Milwaukee rather than from Rockford to O'Hare, where all the planning has been so far, makes more sense.

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