Here's another big, fat told-ya-so for the lousy, stinking O'Hare Airport expansion

In a long-needed assessment of how the expansion of O’Hare International Airport is working out (“Five ways to improve O’Hare”), Chicago Tribune reporters Jon Hilkevitch and  Gregory Karp found that the multi-billion-dollar project has fallen short of its over-hyped expectations. Again.

Which allows me to issue, on behalf of its long-silenced opponents this hearty blast: Here’s another big, fat told-ya-so for the lousy, stinking O’Hare Airport expansion.

Despite all the promises made by expansion supporters, the reporters found that O’Hare Airport still is one of the most despised, if not inefficient, airports in America. The  problems that former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his minions promised to fix remain. Among them, the promise that expansion would cut bad weather delays by 95 percent and overall delays by 79 percent are a joke.

Instead of making your trip to, from and through O’Hare Airport less stressful and quicker, taxiing to your gate now can take a mind-numbing and aggravating 20 minutes. It’s so bad that the reporters quoted one through passenger as bestowing left-handed praise on the airport for providing problem-free trips 50 percent of the time. Fifty percent success rate? Only at O’Hare would that be considered good.

These continuing problems don’t even touch on the destructive jet noise that has newly descended on neighborhoods and communities thanks to the new runway configurations. Or the cost overruns. Or the broken promises yet to come about a new western access road and terminal

These and other major problems  were long ago and consistently detailed by expansion opponents such as the Suburban O’Hare Commission and its former president and Bensenville Village President John Geils.

So, what now? Are these problems fixable? Hilkevitch and Karp had some suggestions:

  1. “Settle issue of future runways, terminal. The problem is that the additional runways and the airport’s new configuration has added to, not subtracted from, the problems. As the article notes, even the two airlines that dominate O’Hare–United and America–don’t agree that adding more capacity is the answer. In everyday parlance, this is throwing good money after bad. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, one of the few politicians in town willing to call a spade a spade, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can’t show even one statistic that demonstrates that things now are any better than before the project started. In fact, after United and American got what they wanted (a couple more runways to increase capacity–but not performance) they opposed additional expansion.
  2. Build more aircraft gates.  Okay, but where? A new western terminal building was promised as part of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), but it’s virtually a non-starter. United and American don’t want it because it would increase competition. Also, it would be terribly inconvenient for airline passengers, especially connecting passengers, isolated as the new terminal would be on the western edge of the airport. There’s no room for more terminals adjacent to the existing ones. One possibility under consideration was replacing the power plant (you’ll see it as you drive away from the existing terminals) with new terminals. But that was rejected as, among other things, too costly.
  3. Improve the FAA air traffic control system. For as long as human memory, the world has been waiting for the FAA to improve this or that system. Never mind the unique problems posed at O’Hare, including Lake Michigan’s affect on the weather. Aviation experts hired by expansion opponents also said one important inhibiting factor to additional capacity and reduced delays is the crowded airspace in the Chicago region. Whatever technological improvement that the FAA and expansion supporters hope will improve the situation, the crowded skies will remain. If not worsen.
  4. Reduce taxi times. Each new runway actually increases taxi times, rather than reduces them. Yet the FAA and the city believe that the better traffic “flow” created by the new runways and airport configuration will somehow improve taxi time. This is truly fantasy. What will happen is that the increased taxi time and the greater number of times that taxiing airplanes have to cross active runways, the greater is the risk of on-ground and catastrophic collisions.
  5. Improve American, United operations. If only. If you believe that the airlines will put passenger convenience ahead of operating cost factors, think about it the next time you try to squeeze into one of their seats that have shrunk to pigmy size.

Related O’Hare Airport posts on this blog:

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