May 22, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

Ryan, Daley won't be rushed on resolving airport problem

May 22, 2001

BY GARY WISBY AND FRAN SPIELMAN STAFF REPORTERS

Gov. Ryan resorted to the language of a Wild West showdown Monday amid growing pressure to do something about O'Hare Airport delays.

Ryan was pressed on why he hasn't met yet with Mayor Daley two months after he suggested the two get together. "We've negotiated to the point where I think we have to," he replied.

"What do you want us to do? Sit down and look each other in the eye, put the guns on the table and say, `Draw'? "

The Daley administration also refused to be rushed. Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker named a task force Monday to find solutions for O'Hare congestion but said its work would take "several months."

Ryan, who last week urged the city to say where new runways would be built, said City Hall promised to "get back to us in two to four weeks. That's where we are. We're waiting to get the plan."

But Aviation spokeswoman Monique Bond said the brief time frame, worked out late last week by Walker and state Transportation Secretary Kirk Brown, is for beginning city-state discussions "on concepts and parameters."

Delivering a detailed plan that quickly "would be impossible," she said.

Ryan isn't the only one waiting. Last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) warned that Congress would act on O'Hare gridlock if Daley and Ryan don't. On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) gave a July 1 deadline.

"Everybody is involved and, hopefully, we will get something resolved," Ryan said. "I don't know if we'll get it done by July 1. . . . I don't know what happens by July 1. Do we all turn into helicopters?"

Asked if he was worried about Congress stepping in, Ryan said: "It isn't just me. . . . There's nine other states where they're talking about doing that. It's a federal plan. If it happens, it happens. There isn't a whole lot I can do about it."

Also demanding specifics from the city is the Suburban O'Hare Commission, representing communities around the airport.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said of the task force, "All it is, is delaying the inevitable. What will be done about additional [O'Hare] capacity, and where will they put it?"

Walker said naming of the task force was prompted not by political pressure but by an FAA recommendation made April 26.

The body will be co-chaired by the city and Federal Aviation Administration and also will represent airlines and transportation officials from Illinois and Indiana.

Except for co-chairmen Kitty Freidheim, a deputy aviation commissioner, and Philip Smithmeyer, manager of the FAA's Chicago district office, members have not yet been chosen. Their first meeting will be early next month.

Walker, appearing at an O'Hare news conference with FAA Regional Administrator Cecelia Hunziker, said the task force will make "a technical evaluation of all the alternatives"--including new runways.

Delays fell 40 percent in the seven years after recommendations from a 1991 delay task force were acted on, Walker said.

Although a complete report from the new group is months away, it may come up with improvements that could be made in the short term, he said.

[Chicago ATC News]