Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O’Hare Modernization Program, welcomes guests to the commissioning of a runway extension just as a jet lands. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is to her right.
Chicago officials are getting the rare chance to boast about the on-time performance of O’Hare International Airport.
Evidently trying to send a message, local leaders on Sept. 25 held the commissioning of a runway extension at O’Hare that they say was delivered $33 million under budget and 56 days early—the first major completion in the airfield’s $7-billion modernization.
The 3,000-ft-long extension of Runway 10L/28R comes in at $236 million, says Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O’Hare Modernization Program. Now 13,000 ft long, the runway accommodates larger aircraft.
“I think they’ve made a statement that they’re a goal-driven organization and that they’re capable of managing an enormously complex project without political interference,” says Joseph Schwieterman, transportation professor in the Dept of Public Service Management and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.
The drama was accentuated by the ceremony that was held on a stage on a berm overlooking the extension where a jet landed every three minutes. Some planes cast reflective shimmers on the sun-drenched day. Numerous political leaders attending affixed their signatures to a sign commemorating the project.
Discipline is critical because project opponents have attacked it for lacking funds to scuttle future construction. Indeed, media reports say the $3.2-billion first phase is short by about $330 million. And, funding questions are exacerbated by financial turmoil nationwide, low consumer confidence and continuing high costs for construction materials and jet fuel.
The first plane lands on the extended Runway 10L/28R, the first major completion of the O’Hare Modernization Program.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley defends the megaproject in a wobbly economic by pointing to history.
“President [Franklin] Roosevelt was attacked for his building initiatives during the Depression,” he says.
Given the ongoing questions about financing, the bipartisanship of the project’s backers was emphasized.
Daley the Democrat thanked two Republicans on stage with him, Mayor Bradley Stephens of suburban Rosemont and DuPage County Commissioner Robert Schillerstrom. Political opposition is strongest from DuPage, especially the town of Bensenville. Expansion opponents are in court to try to prevent the planned demolition of about 600 properties in Bensenville southwest of the airport and the relocation of the adjacent St. Johannes Cemetery.
Jerry Roper, chief executive of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, welcomes guests during a commissioning ceremony while a plane approaches new Runway 10L/28R.
Daley also thanked another Republican, President Bush, “for working with us.”
Bowing to federal leaders and underlining financial discipline are shrewd moves, says DePaul’s Schwieterman.
“Congress definitely notices this,” he says. “Nobody in Washington is willing to let O’Hare break the bank. Memories of [the overbudget Denver International Airport] are fresh.”
On Nov. 20, the 7,500-ft-long Runway 9L/27R and new North Control Tower are expected to open.