Assessing the airport damage
Chicago Tribune Editorial
Published April 3, 2003
Even with new runways and a reconfiguration of its traffic
pattern, O'Hare International Airport will still be plagued by delays caused by
a projected increase in the number of flights at the airport. Those delays could
get worse in the decades to come.
The anti-O'Hare expansion forces have been making that claim for some time. The
assessment this time, though, comes from a city-funded study by Ricondo &
Associates that was obtained by the Tribune's Jon Hilkevitch. The $6.6 billion
O'Hare plan reached by Mayor Richard Daley and former Gov. George Ryan called
for nearly doubling its capacity, to 1.6 million operations a year from today's
Ricondo's conclusions are based on assumptions that proposed
new terminals and gates will be built. Because its computer modeling showed that
delays become severe at 1.3 million operations a year, Ricondo didn't bother
looking at the effect of 1.6 million operations.
This study raises legitimate questions about the limits of O'Hare capacity. It
is not, though, an argument for leaving O'Hare as it is. The study bolsters the
case for a regional solution to Chicago's air capacity crunch that includes
expansion of O'Hare and preparation for a third airport in the south suburbs. A
third airport, presumably at Peotone, must be part of that solution.
O'Hare needs to be modernized and expanded so it can provide more capacity as
part of that long-term solution and remain the critical linchpin in the nation's
air system. This is true regardless of when a third airport is built.
Should the Ricondo study halt the momentum toward airport expansion? No.
It certainly doesn't inflict as much damage as Daley did on his own this week
with his abrupt and dictatorial decision to plow under Meigs Field.
The immediate shock of Daley's midnight bulldozer raid on Meigs has worn off.
But the repercussions are only beginning to set in.
In today's Voice of the People, leaders of the Civic Committee--a consistent
booster of O'Hare expansion--say that the mayor's move on Meigs "does severe
harm" to the partnership between the city's political and business leaders. They
are absolutely correct.
The mayor may be able to plow under Meigs on his own order, but he cannot expand
O'Hare on his own. He still needs business and bipartisan political help to do
that. Yet his midnight raid on Meigs has to give federal and state leaders
second thoughts on whether they can trust him.
As part of the Daley-Ryan deal, the mayor agreed to open a western access point
to O'Hare, something suburban Republican leaders have long sought. Why should
they believe that Daley will stick to that promise, since he has declared there
is no agreement on O'Hare? And if he says tomorrow that he still supports
western access, why should they believe that?
Daley's high-handed behavior has damaged his and the city's credibility. He has
damaged the credibility of his aviation commissioner and his emergency response
chief, who were left to fumble for explanations as to why Meigs had to be ripped
up without notice to the City Council, to the Federal Aviation
Administration--to anyone outside of Daley's tight little circle.
Daley killed off Meigs because he could do it. Let's hope he hasn't killed off
the expansion of O'Hare, too.
Copyright © 2003,