FAA approval seen Friday for O'Hare expansion plan
By Jon Hilkevitch
Tribune transportation reporter
Published September 29, 2005
A decision will be issued Friday on Chicago's proposal to expand O'Hare International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.
Chicago officials had originally pressed for FAA approval by mid-2004 to allow construction on new runways to start. But the federal agency said the review process would take until this month.
The announcement has gone down to the wire, in part because approvals were still needed this week from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to relocate about 1,300 graves at the 156-year-old St. Johannes Cemetery, which borders O'Hare. The cemetery is in the path of one new runway.
FAA approval of O'Hare expansion is expected. But the FAA said it will continue working to complete a financial analysis to determine whether the economic benefits of the expansion exceed the costs, which total $14.7 billion for the airfield realignment, construction of new terminals and other capital improvements. A decision is expected by the end of the year, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.
Positive benefits-to-costs results are required by law for the city to receive $300 million in federal funding for the first phase of the project--and a total of $2 billion in federal grants and passenger ticket taxes that the city is counting on to help pay for the entire project.
Besides the funding uncertainties, there are questions about whether the airport plan is safe and how many years of better performance the expanded airport will provide before serious flight delays return.
Airport opponents vow to seek a court injunction barring the city from condemning the cemetery and other properties on more than 400 acres in Bensenville and Elk Grove Village for the expansion. The expansion foes want a judge to prevent the city from bulldozing properties at least until a determination is made on the benefit-cost test.