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LaHood enables O’Hare expansion

Ray LaHood

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation will give Chicago’s O’Hare international airport $155 million to help build a third runway as part of the O’Hare modernization plan. The way Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reports it, it seems like Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood probably sighed and said, “Okay, okay just give Chicago the damn money” before moving on to more interesting business. A recurring theme of O’Hare expansion is that Washington pushes the project along but airline companies and the city fail to take the next steps.

The Federal Aviation Administration, part of DOT, will provide $155 million for a runway expected to be completed by 2016. The cash temporarily solves a lawsuit United and American airlines jointly filed against the Chicago to prevent spending more of their company’s money toward expansion. Last month LaHood met with outgoing mayor Richard Daley and the airline CEOs — and nothing came of it. So, according to Hilkevitch, LaHood told FAA officials to get their checkbook. Hilkevitch also reports that LaHood, a former Republican member of Congress from downstate Illinois, is in daily correspondence with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

FAA first approved project funding in 2005 and thus far, $1 billion in federal funds have been allocated. Unfortunately, the full expansion is estimated to cost $6 billion, and the main airlines that operate from O’Hare have expressed mixed feelings, at best, about putting their own money into the project. The Daley administration, meanwhile, has been preoccupied with acquiring land to make the project a reality, including bulldozing a 170 year-old cemetery.

So O’Hare expansion stands as uncompleted project of the 22-year Daley administration. At some point Emanuel must kill the project or further fund it — but the FAA money postpones that decision. The federal government might also want to rethink its investment in a project where local government and private stakeholders are not pulling their weight.

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