April 13, 2001 Chicago Tribune

April 13, 2001

Two U.S. senators, who say they and their constituents regularly are hung out to dry by delays at O'Hare International Airport, are raising the stakes in the debate over the construction of a new airport in the Chicago area.

Rather than endorsing the construction of the third airport that Gov. George Ryan is backing, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have called for the construction of a pair of parallel runways at O'Hare. Their call for new runways is also almost certain to infuriate those opposed to expansion efforts.

While from Iowa, they still could exert considerable influence over funding for a third airport versus funding for new runways at O'Hare.

Grassley is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee while Harkin is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

In letters to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee, and other senators, they said: "Chicago O'Hare . . . is located at the center of the nation; the nation's two largest airlines operate connecting hubs there; and over 50 other airlines operate there. Indeed, one could argue that it is the heart of the American aviation system.

"On a blue-sky day, there is no better or more efficient airport in this country. However, when the rain, high winds or fog rolls in, O'Hare can become a gigantic obstruction in the middle of the air transport system. The ripple effect on the rest of the system is tremendous, leading to delays at airports across the country.

"A pair of new runways would significantly reduce the number of delays we now experience in a wide variety of weather difficulties at O'Hare. . . . New runways at O'Hare will aid efforts to improve air service to small and midsize communities. . . . Increased access is absolutely critical to businesses wishing to locate and grow in small and midsize communities," they said.

The two demand that state and local barriers, which have blocked construction for years, be preempted to allow the building of the two runways.

Wisconsin Central on track: The Canadian National Railway and Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp., parent company of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, say they hope to complete their merger by early November.

Officials of the two railroads argue that an in-depth review is not warranted. If the U.S. Surface Transportation Board agrees, the merger could be approved by September or October.

New service to LAX: Ft. Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines will launch non-stop service to Los Angeles International Airport from O'Hare beginning May 9, and it says it will offer heavily discounted tickets for travel between May 9 and June 13.

During the inaugural month for the service, the airline says it will offer tickets for as little as $89 one way, plus various government taxes, if they are purchased by Saturday. Both the flight to Los Angeles and its return flight are red-eyes: The outbound flight from O'Hare departs at 9:15 p.m., arriving at LAX at 11:40 p.m., while the return flight departs LAX at 12:44 a.m. and arrives at O'Hare at 6:44 a.m.

[Chicago ATC News]