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Daley: Expand O'Hare Now

By Sean Stillmaker in News on Feb 12, 2011 7:00PM

O'Hare takeoff.jpg
Photo By Duane Rapp
Mayor Daley has consulted his crystal ball and said the time to expand O’Hare Airport is now, despite dwindling air traffic levels and a lawsuit filed by the airlines to prevent the expansion plan.

After berating the airline executives in a press conference last week, Daley finally got his sit down with United and American Airlines thanks in part from behind the scenes work of Illinois Senators Mark Kirk, Dick Durbin and Peoria native U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

“I look forward to a solution that will benefit everyone involved,” Daley said in a statement. Afterward United and American Airlines delayed court proceedings for their joint lawsuit, but have not found reason to suspend the litigation.

The O’Hare Modernization Program has nearly completed its first phase and wants to start construction for the second this year. The airlines filed their lawsuit blocking the construction because they would be on the hook for 58 percent of the $3.36 billion phase.

The new phase will create two new runways, a new terminal and other improvements. The city received $410 million from the U.S. DOT, which Daley argues will be lost if construction doesn’t start. The city will also be issuing $1 billion in bonds to help finance the project.

The airlines account for 80 percent of the traffic, but levels have been consistently dropping. O’Hare ranked 4th in passenger traffic and 2nd in air traffic movement in 2009, according Airports Council International.

“We want a Phase Two that is fiscally-responsible and based on operational triggers,” sources with the airlines told the Sun Times.