Finally! Investigators probe waste and corruption at O'Hare Airport

UPDATE: Read the Better Government Report here. “No other major airport has borrowed so much, and accomplished so little, records show.”

Original post:

I’ve become something of a scold about how for decades pols have gotten away with the biggest boondoggle in the history of the Chicago Way: The billions spent on the expansion of O’Hare Airport, a project that accomplished nothing for the traveling public, but lines the pockets of favored insiders, special interests and a long line of gonifs.

For years, the Chicago media have ignored how billions of dollars spent on O’Hare expansion accomplished nothing, making it the biggest boondoggle in the state’s history.

But then, to my delight, this email showed up from the Better Government Association:

For more than 50 years, O’Hare International Airport has been plagued by corruption and costly delays. The politically connected cash in. Meanwhile, passengers trudge through a transit hub that persistently underperforms. Check your inbox tomorrow for BGA’s next big investigation where we explore the cost of broken promises at O’Hare. 

I don’t know what the BGA investigation will reveal, but I’m encouraged by its prelude:

Costly delays, billions spent, promises broken. Story breaks tomorrow [Wednesday].

I do know this: Mayor Richard M. Daley laughably promised when he unveiled the O’Hare Modernization Program in 2001 that the $6 billion to be spent on a massive realignment of O’Hare runways and other “improvements” would cut delays by 95 percent in bad weather and 79 percent overall. Yet, on-time performance has not substantially improved since, despite blowing through the budget with billions of cost overruns and missed deadlines. He promised capacity would double; it hasn’t come close.

St. Johannes Cemetery, plowed under by a new southern runway.

St. Johannes Cemetery, plowed under by a new southern runway.

I’ve spent years writing about Chicago aviation going back to my days in the 1970s as the urban affairs reporter at the Chicago Daily News and later as the transportation at the Chicago Sun-Times. Later I spent years as a Sun-Times op-ed columnist exposing the exaggerations, deceptions, betrayals and whacky promises.

As a consultant for the Suburban O’Hare Commission, I watched the destruction of DuPage County’s only affordable housing project to make way

John Geils, former Bensenville village president

John Geils, former Bensenville village president

for the airport, without a peep out of the progressive, fair housing groups. I watched religious rights violated for the sake of a new runway. I watched Republican politicians betray their own constituencies by selling out for the sake of their own personal advancement. I watched the reputations of decent, talented and honest men destroyed by a massive public relations campaign out of Chicago’s City Hall. Among them is John Geils, a leader of the expansion opposition, who has driven out of office as Bensenville’s mayor by a coordinated and organized crusade executed by patronage workers from neighboring suburbs and communities.

I have continued blogging about this injustice. I have proposed magazine articles  about this scandal, to no avail. I have sent a detailed and extensive book proposal to agents and publishers, to be told “no story there. (The book proposal is still available.) Anyone who has tried to disclose the O’Hare expansion problems was regarded as a kook who refused to see the wisdom as agreed upon by corporate leaders, union bigshots, an army of consultants and contractors, and greedy politicians.

Taxpayers not just in Chicago, but around the country, have been touched to finance this mess. Airline passengers likewise have had their fares increased and in exchange have had no relief at O’Hare.

Thank you, BGA, for undertaking this investigation. Maybe now, people will pay attention. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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    Dennis was right about this issue. So was Mayor Craig Johnson of Elk Grove Village, who predicted in 2001 that Daley's exaggerated promises about 195,000 new jobs and other purported benefits of his expansion plan were hot air. What DuPage officials thought they got for signing on was western access to O'Hare. How many more decades will they be waiting?

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