The predicted unraveling of the expansion of O'Hare International Airport

The northwest suburbs that sold out to Chicago in exchange for the support of Mayor Richard M. Daley's ill-conceived expansion of O'Hare International Airport are now paying the price on two fronts:

  • A $3.4 billion new tollway (Elgin-O'Hare expressway) that was supposed to lead a new O'Hare western terminal and spur massive economic development in DuPage County is kaput. As predicted by expansion opponents, it now appears that the western terminal will never be built, drowning the plans for economic development. Drivers using  the new tollway to bypass O'Hare will end up paying about $20 cents a mile for the privilege, compared with about 6 cents for all other users. The new road is a major reason that tolls were recently doubled for all tollway users. 
  • Because of the new runways, the noise footprint--again as predicted by expansion opponents--has expanded to communities and even Chicago neighborhoods where it was a small or non-existent problem. The city's response to the increase complaints is basically, "screw you."

Details of these news story by the Chicago Tribune transportation writers, Jon Hilkevitch and Richard Wronski, can be found at "O'Hare western access may look like dead-end," (May 4) and "Pressure on Chicago for O'Hare noise relief," (May 5).

From the stories, we learn that:

  • No airlines have an interest in building the western terminal because of a multitude of reasons, including it would be too far from the main terminal and greatly inconvenience travelers using connecting airlines.
  • The promised people mover or extension of the CTA line to a western terminal is too expensive and off the drawing boards. Instead, an unappealing and  alternative 45-minute bus ride between the western terminal and the main  terminals would be provided.
  • There's no real western entrance, except by a figurative back door leading nowhere, from the so-called by-pass (extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway), so how would anyone get to the western terminal anyway?
  • The new runways have generated organized opposition to the growing noise problems and demands even from some Chicago aldermen and congressmen who were silent when the O'Hare expansion was being debated. Now--too late--they want something done.

We also are reminded that the additional planned runways probably never will be built because United and American Airlines, the duopoly that virtually controls the airport, has no interest in seeing them built, and certainly no interest in helping pay for them.

We also learn from an earlier Hilkevitch story that, "O'Hare flight patterns changing to reduce risk of collisions," (May 2). The Federal Aviation Administration for new approach and take-off flight patterns also applies to other airports, but especially to O'Hare, where aviation experts warned that one of the major problems with the expansion was safety. In that:

  • The airspace above O'Hare already is crowded, and adding more capacity would not only cause more delays but jeopardize safety.
  • The additional runways have increased  the number of  intersections where the chance of collision is heightened by the increased of number of taxing airplanes that must cross active runways being used by airplanes landing or taking off. Aviation experts agree that the most serious chance of aviation disasters actually occur on the ground in such circumstances.

The Suburban O'Hare Commission and John Geils, the commission's chairman and ex-president of Bensenville who was the leader of the expansion opposition, had warned about every one of these problems--and much more. Geils got steamrolled by Daley's minions who engineered the ousting of Geils as Bensenville president and the virtual end of the opposition.

Notably, Bensenville is one of the t suburbs to have been hardest hit by the overwhelming noise from one of the new runways. Geils' Daley-planted successor, President Frank Soto, now has the cojones to act as if he is moving to solve the problem. "Our goal is to find solutions and implement those solutions as soon as possible to improve the quality of life for our residents,"  Soto said. Baloney.

My other posts on the O'Hare expansion folly:

Disclosure: I was a transportation writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and as an op-ed columnist for the Sun-Times I opposed the O'Hare expansion as well as Daley's idiotic, but now long-forgotten, plan to build a new airport on a century-old garbage dump at Lake Calumet. As a freelancer, I later consulted with expansion opponents. 

What was America's greatest come-from-behind war? Go here to find out.

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