February 2, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

O'Hare needs new runways, Daley says

February 2, 2001


O'Hare Airport needs new runways to accommodate jumbo jets, Mayor Daley said Thursday, advising business leaders who struck out with former Gov. Jim Edgar to lobby Gov. Ryan to make it happen.

"They worked on Edgar for eight years and got zip. They have to work on George Ryan to see if he's willing to sign a simple letter" that would pave the way for construction of a new runway, Daley said.

The mayor said airports all over the country--from New York, Washington and Los Angeles to San Francisco, Detroit and even Peoria--are "looking for new runways," and Chicago is no different.

"Everybody believes there should be" new runways, he said. "You have to look at the old runways to find out if jumbo jets can land there. If they cannot land there, they have problems."

Ryan used his annual State of the State address this week to call for "serious discussions" on a third airport at Peotone and an end to the airport stalemate.

On Thursday, the governor's spokesman said Ryan is searching for a "regional consensus" on airport issues and looks forward to hearing from all interested parties.

They include the pro-runway forces led by Daley, business leaders and major airlines, and the anti-noise, pro-Peotone contingent comprised of members of Congress and suburban mayors.

Federal transportation officials also will weigh in, amid reports that the Bush administration is so eager to ease airport delays it is prepared to speed construction of additional runways at major airports across the country by expediting environmental impact reviews.

"The governor has not been in favor of [new] runways at O'Hare. His plan is for Peotone. But, as he has said, he never shuts the door to discussing the point of view of all of these key stakeholders," said Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton.

Over the years, Daley has made no secret of his desire for at least one and possibly two new runways at O'Hare to ease congestion and reduce bad-weather delays.

He has soft-pedaled the issue in recent years, choosing instead to focus on building new terminals at O'Hare and Midway and on building goodwill with noise-weary suburban residents by soundproofing their homes and schools.

Earlier this week, Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker stuck to the party line and said the mayor's so-called World Gateway plan to build two new terminals at O'Hare would "expand our gates and terminals to match existing runway capacity" that would be sufficient to meet demand until 2012.

On Thursday, Daley dropped all pretenses and publicly acknowledged what business and civic leaders have been saying for months: O'Hare needs new runways.

With airline delays piling up, public pressure has been mounting on Daley and Ryan to cut an airport deal to resolve the problem of congestion and delays at O'Hare.

The mayor tried to deflect the heat by arguing once again that United Airlines, O'Hare's flagship carrier, had a "disaster year" because of labor troubles--not a shortage of runways.

Daley's remarks came as a new coalition of airports and airlines announced Thursday it will lobby the new president to make runway construction "a top federal priority" in order to reduce delays. Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Monique Bond said she was uncertain if the city was involved with the group.

[Chicago ATC News]