2 plans for O'Hare don't mesh, it says
By Jon Hilkevitch
Chicago Tribune transportation reporter
August 16, 2001
United Airlines officials have rejected key elements of Chicago's $3 billion
plan to add terminals at O'Hare International Airport, endangering a project
that was expected to help relieve the airport's chronic flight delays until
new runways can be built.
The United officials, whose support is key to the future of the World
Gateway project, said Wednesday that Mayor Richard Daley's separate proposal
issued in June to reconfigure the outmoded airfield renders parts of the
passenger terminal plan announced in 1999 unnecessary.
"Once you begin marrying the two plans together, you begin to see that some
things will need to change," said Amos Kazzaz, United's vice president of
corporate real estate. "I think [World Gateway] needs to be relooked at."
With Daley including the construction of a massive new passenger terminal on
the airport's western edge in his $6.3 billion proposal to add and relocate
runways to expand capacity, there is no longer a need for one of the two
smaller terminals proposed under World Gateway, the United executives said.
The airline's resistance could hamper Chicago's efforts to move ahead with a
project aimed at reducing congestion by adding at least 20 new aircraft
gates. In addition to providing more places for planes to park, the new
gates would accommodate wide-body jets that seat more passengers.
But the airline's position could also portend the fate of the more
complicated and controversial proposal to add and relocate runways at
That venture still needs the approval of Gov. George Ryan. And even if it is
approved, it faces the prospect of years of legal challenges and
environmental reviews before it could begin.
Project moving slowly
Meanwhile, construction on World Gateway, initially expected to start this
year, remains a plan on paper that has yet to receive federal approval.
Daley has predicted that the first runway under his latest plan could be
ready in five years.
City aviation officials submitted a draft environmental-assessment report of
the World Gateway project to the Federal Aviation Administration last
spring. The FAA is studying the report, but agency spokesman Tony Molinaro
said, "There is no schedule yet regarding when we will complete our analysis
or when we will hold a public hearing."
City aviation officials maintain that World Gateway is on schedule and on
But the estimated cost has tripled from the original $1 billion announced 2
1/2 years ago--and city officials acknowledge the price could increase as
the concept is fine-tuned. The project would be financed with contributions
from the airlines, passenger ticket taxes and federal funds.
"It was apparent from almost the beginning that World Gateway was more
costly than was necessary to expand [terminal] facilities," said Joseph
Schwieterman, chairman of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan
Development at DePaul University. "It was intended to lay the groundwork for
a runway announcement. Now that the announcement has been made, the city
should go back and rethink some of its earlier assumptions."
Officials at American Airlines, which like United operates a hub at O'Hare,
have not raised objections to World Gateway. American spokeswoman Mary
Frances Fagan said the airline supports "phased implementation of World
Gateway. Take one bite of the apple at a time." Fagan declined to say
whether the airline would stay committed to both proposed terminals.
Officials at United and American have signed off on one of the two terminals
that the city wants to build as part of World Gateway.
"We've negotiated an agreement with American and United to move ahead with
$1.5 billion of the total [$3 billion] plan," said John Harris, first deputy
aviation commissioner. He said the city remains confident that the entire
program would proceed as planned.
O'Hare has three domestic passenger terminals and one international
terminal. World Gateway calls for development of two more passenger
terminals that would serve both domestic and international flights, the
rehabilitation of an existing terminal, two new customs facilities, new
roads and an extension of the airport's people mover system.
Department of Aviation spokeswoman Monique Bond said World Gateway would add
at least 27 aircraft gates to the 172 gates at O'Hare.
About 20 of the new gates would be located in the new Terminal 6, east of
the existing international facility. One concourse at American Airlines'
Terminal 3 containing 10 gates would be demolished and replaced by the new
Terminal 4, which would have 13 gates.
But the construction of Terminal 4 would require extensive modifications to,
and possibly the relocation of, O'Hare's heating and refrigeration plant and
an Ameritech switching station that provides communications throughout the
airport, plus other costly infrastructure changes, officials said.
The western terminal that Daley proposed June 29 in his runway expansion
announcement would have 55 gates, officials said.
That terminal would be served by a new western-access entrance road easing
traffic flow into the airport, and passengers would be able to travel
between the western terminal and other terminals via a new light-rail
The ambitious idea prompted United officials to call for a re-examination of
World Gateway's proposed Terminal 4.
"There is the potential for at least 50 new [aircraft] gates at the
western-access terminal. . . . Terminal 4 is the part in question as you
look at other opportunities to grow capacity," United's Kazzaz said.
He said the western terminal is a better fit for routing planes from the
reconfigured airfield to the passenger terminals.
United's objections Wednesday came as the airline's pilots said they support
Daley's runway plan. The pilots said reconfiguring the runways would improve
safety and would nearly double capacity in bad weather when the airport's
ability to accommodate flights is severely restricted.
"Just like the passenger, flight crews like to get home on time and not feel
totally stressed and worn out," said Capt. Rick Dubinsky, a United pilot for
nearly 36 years and a union leader for the Air Line Pilots Association.