May 23, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

Daley says he will meet Durbin's O'Hare deadline

May 23, 2001


Mayor Daley said Tuesday he feels the "urgency" to break the bottleneck at O'Hare Airport and will give Gov. Ryan a concept plan for new runways in time to meet a July 1 deadline set by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Daley said a solution to the long-running O'Hare saga should be hammered out by local officials--not dictated from Washington--and the timing is perfect with pressure building from Congress, the business community and the Federal Aviation Administration.

For years, Daley said, "Everyone thought it was just my problem . . . it was Mayor Daley. He's going to get it done. It requires a lot of people to come forward with suggestions. We have to work together on this because the issue will not go away."

Durbin has pushed for a consensus by July 1. His Democratic colleague, Tom Harkin of Iowa, has warned that Congress will dictate a solution if Ryan and Daley don't resolve their differences by June or July.

"I hope the solution comes from us. . . . Everybody has to come to the table, and everybody has to give back a little bit," the mayor said.

Asked if he could meet the July 1 deadline, Daley said, "Yes. The urgency is there."

Reminded that his own Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker has said it would take several months to come up with a solution, Daley said, "You can get some concepts.

"When you have any bad weather, these planes are so large today, they have to shut down 50 percent of the runways automatically because they're too close together. That is a major problem. Everybody knows about that. We have to correct that. And, at the same time, there's always been a question about a [new] runway in regards to delays and other things. It's very simple. A plan will be forthcoming."

Ryan, who pressed the mayor last week for expansion details, said the mayor's new and speedier timetable is a "good sign" a compromise is possible. "He thinks it's important to stop talking in generalities and see specifically what the city would propose," Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton said.

Joseph Karaganis, an attorney for the anti-noise Suburban O'Hare Commission, predicted Daley would just dust off the secret plans he claims to have abandoned to boost O'Hare's capacity from 917,000 to 1.3 million flights a year by building four parallel runways.

The Suburban O'Hare Commission obtained the documents as part of a court battle with the city.

"Sometime within the next 60 days, Mayor Daley, Sen. Durbin and the Civic Committee will reveal their plan. And when they do, you're going to find that it's much more expensive than building new capacity at Peotone. It's going to take much longer, and it's not going to provide sufficient capacity to meet the region's needs," Karaganis said.

"The so-called third airport is going to be little more than a Quonset hut and a wind sock. All the traffic is going to be jammed into O'Hare. If you want a perfect picture of the Daley plan in action, take a look at Lambert Field and Mid-America Airport in St. Louis. They're adding a runway at Lambert, and there is virtually no traffic at Mid-America. It's a white elephant out on the prairie."

R. Eden Martin, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, praised the mayor for his prompt response to an unprecedented, pro-runway letter signed by Chicago's corporate elite.

"This is tremendously encouraging. . . . We felt that the governor made a great step forward last week [when he asked to see Daley's runway plan]. And now, the mayor has taken another great step forward in forming a delay task force and in setting quick timetables for progress," Martin said.

In crafting a political solution, Martin said it is essential that no "artificial caps" be placed on the number of flights at O'Hare. But Daley said Tuesday he does not "have enough information" to make a final judgment on flight caps.

The Civic Committee has argued that construction of "at least one new parallel runway" would generate $10 billion in annual revenue and create 100,000 new jobs.

"If we artificially kept the traffic volume to today's levels, we would lose all of those benefits of adding runways," Martin said.

The long-running stalemate over Chicago airport expansion gained renewed attention earlier this year with a report by the FAA . It concluded that scheduled traffic at O'Hare exceeded the airport's capacity for 3.5 hours a day, even under ideal weather conditions.

[Chicago ATC News]