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O’Hare Lands $1.3B Infrastructure Deal

Thursday, February 4, 2016

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The City of Chicago has reached an agreement with two major airlines on a $1.3 billion infrastructure plan that includes construction of a sixth runway at O’Hare International Airport, deicing pads and new taxiways.

In addition to creating thousands of jobs over the life of the project, this agreement is seen to pave the way for future airport improvements that will ultimately allow O’Hare to increase the number of gates and modernize the terminals (not included in this agreement), the city said in its statement Sunday (Jan. 30).

istock/mtourado
© iStock.com / mtourado

On Jan. 30, the City of Chicago announced a nearly $1.3 billion infrastructure plan for O’Hare International Airport that will create thousands of jobs over the life of the project.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, City of Chicago officials, U.S. Senators Durbin and Kirk, representatives from United and American Airlines, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were on hand to make the announcement.

New Runway, Increased Safety

At 11,245-foot-long, 200-foot-wide, the new runway (known as Runway 9C/27C) will be the second largest runway at O’Hare. Cost of construction, which is slated to begin in May, is estimated at $648.5 million.

According to CLTV, Chicago has been working for years to reorganize intersecting runways in a safer configuration, while United and American Airlines resisted a new runway they felt was unnecessary—until now.

The new runway is the final piece of a decade-long modernization project to reconfigure the airport’s layout from several intersecting runways to a configuration of six parallel, east-to-west runways and two diagonal runways, NPR reported Monday (Feb. 1).

"This new runway is one of the final steps in realizing a fully modernized and efficient O'Hare Airport," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "It is an investment in enhanced safety, both in the air and on the ground, and in a better travel experience for passengers in Chicago and across the nation."

istock/rafalkrakow
© iStock.com / rafalkrakow

This historic agreement includes a new 1,245-foot-long, 200-foot-wide runway (Runway 9C/27C), deicing pads and other critical airfield projects, paving the way for future airport improvements, officials say.

Runway 9C/27C, scheduled to be commissioned in 2020, will be used for arriving and departing aircraft. It will balance the capacity of the north airfield with that of the south airfield, the City says, providing increased flexibility for east and west flow operations.

“[The new runway] will allow for arrivals and departures to operate on different runways in the north half of the airport," Huerta added. "And this will enable more on-time operations and greater safety margins for incoming and outgoing aircraft."

The new runway and reconfiguration will also balance noise exposure among communities east and west of O’Hare, the City said. It also plans to ensure that sound insulation of all eligible homes and schools will be completed before the runway opens.

Additional Projects for Efficiency

Efficiency, safety and passenger experience appear to be the focus of the full project.

As part of the plan, O’Hare’s airfield also will receive a centralized deicing facility, which the City anticipates will increase the efficiency of the current deicing operations at individual gates.

istock/Sage78
© iStock.com / Sage78

O’Hare’s airfield also will receive a centralized deicing facility to increase the efficiency of the current deicing operations at individual gates, improve on-time performance and the passenger experience.

By improving gate utilization and terminal capacity, and eliminating secondary deicing for departing planes, on-time performance and passenger experience are expected to benefit. This new facility will also enhance runway safety while improving airfield operations, the City notes.

Additionally, a new cross-field taxiway system will be constructed to connect the north and south airfields, which is expected to decrease taxi time for planes arriving at O’Hare and, again expected to improve the customer experience.

The construction plan also calls for the relocation of fuel supply lines and airline support facilities, as well as perimeter Taxiways A and B.

“The agreement announced today will help ensure that O’Hare will remain not only one of the country’s busiest airports, but also one of the best,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said.

“These improvements will lead to a safer, more efficient airport while solidifying O’Hare’s status as an economic engine for the region and a world-class air hub.”

Job Creation, Economic Impact

The construction of Runway 9C/27C and the additional airfield projects will have a major economic impact on Chicago, and ensuring significant local workforce participation will be a priority, the City says.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“The capital plan will improve the passenger experience at O’Hare, while creating thousands of good-paying jobs for Chicagoans,” Mayor Emanuel said.

“This historic agreement enhances O’Hare's role as the economic engine of Chicago and the region,” Mayor Emanuel said. “The capital plan will improve the passenger experience at O’Hare, while creating thousands of good-paying jobs for Chicagoans.”

According to the City, over the duration of the project, more than 5,000 construction and professional services jobs will be created, while also creating an opportunity to turn hundreds of entry-level jobs into opportunities for underserved communities.

“We are thrilled about this important opportunity to bring additional economic development to Chicago’s neighborhoods,” said Shari Runner, President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “It is more important than ever before to ensure that the jobs created from modernizing O’Hare Airport help lift up our underserved communities.”

What Lies Ahead?

Travelers are expected to reap benefits such as improved on-time performance and enhanced customer experience as a result of the increased capacity at the airport. However, travel experts say that without increasing terminal space and adding new gates, delays will continue, NPR reported.

Again, United Airlines and American Airlines, which have major hubs at O'Hare and dominate its air and gate space, have long opposed the addition of gates that might enable competitors to add flights and gain market share, the news organization wrote, citing travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt.

However, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans sees this new runway deal as the first major step toward new gates. "This is the key to being able to do what we've all been waiting for for so many years, which is to add gates to the main terminal complex at O'Hare."

She says the next next step will be to negotiate new use and lease agreements with American and United.

According to Mayor Emanuel negotiations have begun for an airport use and lease agreement with airlines operating at O’Hare that contemplates new air service. This agreement will be finalized in 2018.

When the parallel runway system is complete, the focus will turn increasing the number of gates, modernizing and expanding existing terminal space, building a new hotel on the airfield, creating a mode of western access to O’Hare and improving transportation options to and from the airport.

   

Tagged categories: Airports; Infrastructure; North America; Program/Project Management; Terminals; Transportation

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