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O’Hare International Airport is receiving a $10 million federal grant for airfield construction that will allow for more flights, with Illinois congressmen hopeful the money also will jump-start stalled negotiations between Chicago and the airlines over completing the runway expansion project.
The Federal Aviation Administration funding announced Friday will cover much of the cost to build a key taxiway that’s critically important to the efficient and safe operation of a new runway that officials say is scheduled to open Oct. 17.
Construction of the taxiway is set to start next spring and be completed in 2016. Until then, air traffic controllers will limit the use of the new runway to maintain safety, officials said.
The taxiway, known as Lima Lima, will allow airplanes to taxi for takeoff and taxi to terminals without stopping, officials said. Without the taxiway, two things happen: Planes on the ground will have to stop for crossing traffic. And when specific combinations of runways are in use, the spacing between arriving aircraft on final approach will need to be extended, decreasing the maximum number of landings per hour.
The taxiway grant is intended to offer an added incentive for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and United Airlines and American Airlines to break a stalemate over whether to complete the O’Hare expansion plan.
The city is seeking to finish the eight-runway redesign as quickly as possible. The Chicago Department of Aviation’s original plan called for completion in 2012. It’s only halfway done. The airlines prefer a go-slow approach, tying future increases in passenger demand to the possible further improvements that include construction of a fourth new runway, a runway extension and a proposed new airline terminal on the airport’s west side.
To date, agreement has been reached on an additional runway that opened in 2008, the new runway set to open next month and a runway scheduled to open in 2015.
Two years ago, then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood provided emergency funding to keep the O’Hare Modernization Program from stopping. At the time, the city and the airlines agreed to resume negotiations this year on finalizing a financial agreement to continue construction. No progress has been reported.
The Illinois congressional delegation is pushing City Hall and the airlines to make a deal on the rest of the work.
“The federal government has invested a total of $747 million to expand and modernize O’Hare Airport,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “Today’s additional funding, in combination with a significant contribution from the airlines, will help create jobs and keep the project on track.”
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