May 23, 2001 Chicago Tribune
Daley vows an O'Hare remedy by July 1

Tribune staff reporters
May 23, 2001

Mayor Richard Daley said Tuesday that by July 1, he will present a plan—if only a sketchy one—to reconfigure the layout of O'Hare International Airport to remedy chronic delays.

Putting a proposal on the table by July presumably would forestall threatened action in Washington that would empower the federal government to dictate a solution to O'Hare's delay problems. And, assuming Daley's proposal is endorsed by Gov. George Ryan, it also would meet a deadline proposed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

"The urgency is there," Daley said of his willingness to proceed on a fast track.

The mayor would not disclose whether his plan will include additional runways, but he said he will seek suggestions from outside City Hall on how O'Hare should be improved.

"I will be listening to mayors in the suburban area," he said. "I will be listening to the business community and labor people and everyone involved in regard to O'Hare. ... I hope the solution comes from us."

Madigan's stance

Meanwhile, in Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) hardened his position against using state money to buy land at the site of a proposed third regional airport near Peotone.

The state appropriated, but has not spent, $30 million in past two years to buy the land, and the governor has requested an additional $15 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Madigan said the "entire amount" of $45 million is part of budget negotiations.

"I view the proposed airport at Peotone as a fantasy airport," Madigan said. "It's kind of like going to Disneyland."

Acknowledging his criticism of the Peotone proposal was sharper than anything he has said in the past, Madigan said: "Well, it's truthful."

"I mean, you've been to Disneyland, I take it? You've been to Fantasyland at Disneyland or Disney World? It's kind of what they're talking about at Peotone."

Madigan and other legislative leaders who attended a recent budget summit with Ryan said the issue of runways at O'Hare did not surface during the opening round of negotiations. The governor and legislative leaders are scheduled to get together again Wednesday as they hash out a number of issues in a quest to come to agreement on a $50 billion state spending plan by their scheduled adjournment on Friday.

Federal pressure

On a visit to Chicago last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) repeated his threat to push legislation that would permit the federal government to mandate additional runways at O'Hare if local officials failed to take action by July. Only the governor has the power to authorize runway construction under Illinois law.

Last Sunday, Durbin for the first time called for additional runways and urged Daley and Ryan to "reach a mutual agreement by July 1" on increasing flight capacity and improving safety at O'Hare.

Reminded that a new Chicago Delay Task Force, formed to recommend ways to ease delays at the airport, will not complete its work by July, Daley said the plan he proposes will not necessarily be a final one.

"You can get some concepts," he said.

Daley said all parties need to be flexible in finding a solution to delays, including airlines that schedule "25 or 30 or 40 flights between 7:30 and 8:15."

"Everybody has to come to the table and everybody has to say, 'We have to give back a little bit.' ... Everyone thought it was just my problem—Mayor Daley—'and he is going to get it done.' It requires a lot of people to come forward with suggestions. We need to work together on this. This issue is not going to go away."

Critical response

If Daley follows through on his promise to listen to suburban mayors, he is guaranteed to get an earful from the anti-noise, anti-expansion chief executives who represent municipalities near O'Hare. They are dead set against additional runways and contend the Peotone airport is needed to handle growing aviation demand.

Last fall's Tribune series on congestion and delays, "Gateway to Gridlock," reported Chicago officials and consultants repeatedly manipulated forecasts over the years to suit the city's political position on airport issues.

When a 1993 forecast predicted O'Hare would run out of capacity in two years, indicating a new field might be needed, a city consultant simply changed assumptions to come up with a lower number that robbed third airport advocates of new ammunition, the series found. Daley opposes construction at Peotone.

Until recently, the mayor and his top aides contended O'Hare's current airfield configuration was adequate to handle traffic until at least 2012. But records uncovered in connection with a 1995 lawsuit filed against the city show that City Hall consultants in the mid-1990s had drafted a proposed layout that would eliminate two runways and add two new ones in a plan that would permit more flights.

Such a revamp was considered politically impossible at the time because of gubernatorial opposition.

On another front, legislative leaders on Tuesday told state Rep. Julie Hamos, a Chicago Democrat who was tapped to lead the House Aviation Committee, to postpone the release of a study on the future of the state's aviation needs.

Hamos had planned a news conference to unveil the study for Wednesday, the same day Boeing Co. officials are scheduled to be in Springfield as legislators consider the details of the incentive package offered to the company to relocate its headquarters to Chicago.

Tribune staff reporter Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.

[Chicago ATC News]