May 18, 2001 Daily Herald
How city planned to expand O'Hare
By Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted on May 18, 2001

Chicago officials have known for 20 years that unless O'Hare International Airport had new runways, an additional airport would be needed, according to documents released Thursday.

According to the city's Master Plan for O'Hare in 1981, without "unconstrained development" including new runways at O'Hare, "another major airport will be required" after 1995.

The plan was part of thousands of pages of documents Chicago made public Thursday following a court order to unseal them.

City officials maintained that the documents were merely consultants' proposals that were never adopted, and don't reflect current plans.

"They were only concepts, that's all they were," Mayor Richard Daley said, after a meeting of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus in Elmhurst. "It's like anything, you commission a study of a concept."

"Those are old documents, and they're stale," said the city's Deputy Corporation Counsel, Susan Herdina. "We never had them formally approved."

That's "nonsense," according to suburban attorney Joseph Karaganis, because correspondence shows consultants carried out city wishes all along.

The city did follow some of the consultant's recommendations, such as proposing a Lake Calumet Airport, and expanding use of Midway Airport.

The documents are "explosive," according to Karaganis, attorney for the Suburban O'Hare Commission, because they show city officials have lied by stating no more airport capacity is needed, when they knew otherwise.

The documents surfaced because of a pending court case. In 1995, Wood Dale, Bensenville and Elmhurst - and later, DuPage County - filed suit to block the expansion of O'Hare without state permits.

In court, the suburbs got the city's secret airport planning documents, and publicized portions of them.

But DuPage County Circuit Court Judge Bonnie Wheaton ruled against the suburbs, and ordered the documents sealed from the public.

Last week, the Illinois Appellate Court overturned Wheaton's order to seal the documents.

In coming months, the court also will hear arguments for the suburbs' appeal to require state permits for any airport expansion.

The documents show a pattern of city consultants recommending options for expanding O'Hare and killing the state's plan to build a new airport in south suburban Peotone.

For example, in 1987, a memo by city aviation consultant Landrum & Brown stated that building two new runways and relocating two others would boost capacity from 920,000 operations per year to 1.1 million, though 25 to 30 percent more people would be affected by aircraft noise.

That report also stated that the city opposed a third airport outside the city because it feared losing control over O'Hare and the closure of Midway, so it needed to expand O'Hare and discredit the state's plans for a new airport.

"Replacement and new runways ... should be considered," the report stated.

To turn any new airport to the city's advantage, Landrum & Brown recommended the city "secretly" pursue its own third airport near the Chicago/Gary border, to help revitalize the South Side.

In 1990, Mayor Daley proposed a new airport at Lake Calumet. But state lawmakers failed to support the plan, and the city dropped it.

Suburban critics say the Lake Calumet proposal showed the city recognized the need and the feasibility of a third airport.

Repeatedly in the 1990s, consultants recommended an option of rebuilding O'Hare to have four parallel east-west runways and two other landing strips to increase capacity.

The documents are coming to light again as Gov. George Ryan has proposed meeting with Daley to discuss new runways at O'Hare in return for a new airport at Peotone.

Despite record flight delays at O'Hare last year, and a Federal Aviation Administration report showing O'Hare is beyond capacity, city officials still maintain publicly that no new runways or airports are needed.

The documents also show that a 1991 Delay Task Force which recommended building new runways at O'Hare, found it would not only decrease delays, but could increase capacity to 1.2 million flights a year.

Now, the city is working with the FAA to develop a new Delay Task Force. Opponents fear it will again work to increase the number of flights.

Daily Herald staff writer Mike Comerford contributed to this report.


City leaders say new runways not needed

[Chicago ATC News]