May 18, 2001 Chicago Tribune
Secret plan for runways denied
Chicago releases O'Hare papers in suburbs' suit

Tribune staff reporters
May 18, 2001

A day after Gov. George Ryan said he wanted to review plans for new runways at O'Hare International Airport, city aviation officials said Thursday they don't have any new runway plans to show him.

In fact, the city said, it hasn't commissioned any runway scenarios since 1998, when consultants prepared an ambitious proposal that would have greatly enhanced O'Hare's ability to handle flights.

Though the city's comments were intended to counter claims from runway opponents of a secret runway plan, they fueled charges from other critics that the city is dragging its feet on finding a solution to aviation gridlock at O'Hare.

"The city should lay out a plan for what it is proposing to do to alleviate delays at O'Hare," said Dick Adorjan, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The comments by city aviation officials came during an impromptu news conference Thursday where city officials released thousands of documents--some of them embarrassing to the Daley administration--that until recently had been under court seal.

The Tribune reported last year that the documents reveal that the city's own consultants have been warning for years that O'Hare was running out of room and that the only solution was to build new runways or a new airport.

When the Tribune story was published in June, DuPage County Judge Bonnie Wheaton ordered the documents sealed. An Illinois Appellate Court overruled Wheaton on May 11.

The documents were part of a 1995 lawsuit filed against the city by several suburban communities that argue the city should be required to seek state approval for any O'Hare development.

The documents contradict the Daley administration's longtime public position that O'Hare has plenty of room to handle new flights and that no new runways are needed for more than a decade.

City Hall has been reluctant to admit there are capacity problems at O'Hare because such an admission would bolster arguments for a new airport in south suburban Peotone, which could threaten Daley's control over the region's airports.

But city officials said the documents were simply the opinions of consultants and that the Daley administration has considered "a wide variety of ideas for the future of both O'Hare and Midway airports," according to a news release.

The city's news conference effectively trumped a press event scheduled for Monday by Joseph Karaganis, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

On Thursday, Karaganis, who also represents the Suburban O'Hare Commission, a leading critic of airport expansion, dismissed the city's news conference as damage control. He said anyone who takes the time to understand the documents would find "shocking examples" of "lies" about aviation forecasts, O'Hare's capacity and future plans.

Karaganis said the documents make clear that the city's consultants have been pushing the same ambitious plan for runway expansion for years. That plan calls for a massive redesign of the airfield, adding two new runways and eliminating two others.

The result would be four parallel runways, instead of the criss-cross pattern that currently exists, which would allow far more planes to take off and land than is now possible. Many communities around the airport oppose such a plan because of the additional noise and congestion that it would create.

A 1994 memo suggests that the plan would cost $1.2 billion and require the acquisition of 500 housing units and 82 commercial or industrial properties. It would also require the relocation of several roads and railroad tracks.

In a 1997 memo, prepared by city aviation planners Landrum & Brown, the city is encouraged to complete "the full build-out potential of its crown jewel, O'Hare," by moving forward with plans for four parallel runways.

City officials were unable to point to any recent documents referring to other runway configurations. But they reiterated that the runway plans were simply concepts that were never adopted.

"Just because it's the most recent plan Landrum & Brown proposed doesn't mean the city is going with it," said Carolyn Grisko, a city airport consultant.

City officials have said they will have nothing to show to the governor until a task force of city, state and federal officials that is being formed completes its review of ideas to reduce delays at O'Hare.

[Chicago ATC News]