May 17, 2001 Daily Herald
Runway deal unlikely this spring
By Eric Kroland John Patterson Daily Herald Staff Writers
Posted on May 17, 2001

Gov. George Ryan said Wednesday he doubts a deal for new runways at O'Hare International Airport will happen before state lawmakers clock out for the summer on May 25, despite weeks of clamoring by business and congressional leaders for a solution to the Chicago area's air traffic woes.

"I doubt if we get it done before the end of session," Ryan said. "There's no time pressure on that for the end of session."

That view was shared by two other powerbrokers key to getting a deal done for a new airport in far South suburban Peotone coupled with a new runway or two at O'Hare.

Senate President James "Pate" Philip, a Wood Dale Republican, said he would listen to what his suburban mayors want before agreeing to any airport deal.

"They don't want any more airplanes at O'Hare Field, period. That would mean no more runways," Philip said.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said not enough time remains in the spring legislative session to a get a runway deal completed.

The lack of action this spring on the air congestion problem can be easily explained: No one with the power to leverage such a deal is doing so.

Ryan has lived up to his reputation as a dealmaker during his first two years as governor, but the prospect of signing off on new O'Hare runways puts him in a political Catch-22. The governor hasn't decided whether to seek re-election, and agreeing to more runways would anger Republican voters in the suburbs around O'Hare. But Ryan has said he won't decide his political future until the summer - when lawmakers will be long gone and unavailable to vote on a deal.

"I want to tell you, there's been no proposal for a new runway presented to me at all," Ryan said. "This eventually will get worked out. When? I can't tell you."

Pressure has been building for weeks on Ryan, Daley and state lawmakers to find a solution to air traffic gridlock.

A federal study released two weeks ago showed that O'Hare has too much traffic an average of 3.5 hours a day in good weather, and the ripple effect results in delays throughout the country.

When Daley and Ryan flew to Washington, D.C., for their annual joint appearance, the state's congressional delegation stressed that if the two don't find a solution to air gridlock, Congress might step in with its own effort. Even Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who has long avoided taking a position on new runways at O'Hare, recently edged toward favoring them, saying he favors "modernization" of the airport including a reconfiguration of runways to reduce delays.

And newspaper ads taken out Monday by a group of business leaders called for new runways to keep the Chicago-area economy from future stagnation.

Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican and new runway foe, said she thinks all the attention being paid to O'Hare prefaces a political deal. But Sen. Dave Sullivan, a Park Ridge Republican and runway opponent, disagreed, saying he doesn't think a deal is imminent.

While Philip has opposed new runways, he did say this week he might be open to a deal if there were an iron-clad provision to limits flights at O'Hare to keep a lid on noise.

Ryan said Wednesday that Philip's comments "give us some room to negotiate" while Daley said it's a "good concept" that he hoped to discuss with Philip.

But such talk did little to win over a suburban mayors' group that staunchly opposes runways because members have little faith an iron-clad flight limit ever will exist.

"The federal government can later say, 'gee, we found in the national interest we have to lift the cap,'" said Joe Karaganis, an attorney for the Suburban O'Hare Commission. "And if airlines decide to violate (flight limits), how will you enforce them?"

With the prospect of a deal dim, the O'Hare debate next turns to a June 15 public hearing in Chicago by U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate's transportation panel. The former Republican presidential candidate likely will get an earful from angry business travelers, who along with families taking vacations, are expected to meet continued delays at O'Hare throughout the summer.

Daily Herald staff writer Shamus Toomey contributed to this report.


O'Hare delays cause ripple effect around country

[Chicago ATC News]