Back when former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley promised to wave his magic wand and turn the 1950s-style O'Hare Airport into a 21st Century jewel, Tri-State and other Illinois tollway drivers had no reason to pay much attention. Daley and his corporate, political, organized labor and do-gooder minions had assured everyone that expanding O'Hare wouldn't cost drivers anything. Extending the inappropriately named Elgin-O'Hare expressway to the airport, feeding a new western terminal, and building an airport by-pass road would be no skin off the backs of tollway drivers.
Lo and behold, those assurances turned out to be a steaming pile of crap, just like about everything else that Daley promised in connection with the expansion.
We shouldn't be surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn and public officials who have been lured on board this highway/airport hoax are breaking this "news" to us in stages. First, establish the need for the new highway, then create a commission that concludes that the only way to build it is to raise the price for everyone using the region's tollways. It took a year for the Quinn-appointed commission to "study" the "complexities" to reach this self-evident conclusion. The next step, after a year's study, will finally tell everyone how high tolls will have to be raised , even if you don't go near the airport or use the Elgin-O'Hare expressway.
I suppose one reason they can't say is because they don't know exactly how they're going to build the blasted thing. That would be 17 miles of new highway, connecting with I-90 (Northwest Tollway) on the north and I-294 (Tri-State Tollway) on the south. Or they're not saying because the reality of the project is that it can easily get out of hand.
A couple of major problems:
- The northern by-pass will be built on airport property, which means tunneling under taxiways, highways and other facilities--an expensive proposition. At least we're "promised" that it will be built on airport property; Daley had to do so get Elk Grove Village--the last of two major suburban opponents of the expansion--on board. Otherwise, the highway would have cut deep into the town's tax-rich industrial park. If you want to see how this works, check out how I-285 burrows under a portion of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
- The southern leg is a conundrum. Maps show that it will be cutting through the gigantic Bensenville railroad yards. Will that require expensive bridgework or tunneling? Or will some rail yards be lost, and if so, how will they be replaced. The southern leg connection with I-290 also is problematic. Will it have to go through another cemetery--this time a larger one? Will it take large amounts of industrial property? Answers still to come.
- The benefits of the (lowball) $3-billion-plus work will be dependent on the construction of a new terminal on the western edge of the airport. The Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and the by-pass are supposed to provide direct access to the new terminal, but....(1) United and American airlines, which run about 80 percent of O'Hare's business don't want the new terminal. They don't want the competition from the entrance of new airlines into the airport and the certainly don't want to pay for any part of it. (2) New airlines are not clamoring for a western terminal because it's too distant to provide feeder passengers to United and America that dominate the main terminal. Expansion advocates yammered about some kind of specialized bus service that would provide the connections, but have provided no details.
The bottom line is that pie-in-the-sky expansion and its allied highway and other projects have been doomed from the start. At first everything was to cost only $6 billion, until opponents, armed with the facts, made Chicago admit that it cost at least twice that. But not to worry, all those highways and allied projects wouldn't cost taxpayers much, if anything, (As if the passenger facility charge and the dollars that the airlines build into the price of the tickets and federal airport assistance were not taxes.) Now we're finding out that the $14 billion or $15 billion (at least) doesn't include the new highway costs. And now,the airlines don't want to pay for Phase Two of the airport expansion itself.
Former DuPage County Chariman Bob Schillerstrom who sold out to Daley by ending his opposition to airport expansion says that "who pays?" for the highways is "sort of the last big issue." No Bob, the last big issue, who is going to be gouged for all this crap?
And when will Chicago's reporters, editors and producers catch on--having failed miserably to have listened to warnings of the coming problems?
Tags: airport by-pass, airports, American Airlines, aviation, Bob Schillerstrom, Chicago media, Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, Hartsfield Airport, highways, Illinois tollway, O'Hare Airport, Pat Quinn, Richard M. Daley, Tri-State Tollway, United Airlines