The debate over expanding aviation capacity in the Chicago region has been going on for as much as 30 years - the Civic Committee has been advocating the expansion of O'Hare for nearly 20 years. But about four years ago the debate began to intensify because congestion and flight delays at O'Hare had reached an all-time high. Yet, there was little organized support or notable public debate on the prospect of O'Hare expansion. In response, the Civic Committee decided to launch a more aggressive campaign to build support for O'Hare expansion in the fall of 1999.
We commissioned the consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton to conduct an independent assessment of O'Hare, its economic impact on the regional economy, and the potential benefits of expanding the airport. The study, which was released in April of 2000, confirmed that O'Hare is the economic engine of the Chicago region, contributing about $37 billion annually and over 400,000 jobs to the economy (according to a 2001 update of the study by Booz Allen). The report concluded that O'Hare should be expanded to preserve its economic benefit to the Chicago region and enhance its position to become the primary mid-continent international aviation hub which would lead to additional benefits in terms of economic development, employment, tax base, and convenience for the region's residents and business.
On May 14, 2001, we sent a two-page open letter signed by the business members of the Civic Committee to Mayor Richard Daley, Governor George Ryan , and Illinois' four legislative leaders calling for additional runways at O'Hare. The letter was published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's, and several other newspapers.
Click here for a copy of the letter.
On June 29, 2001, Mayor Daley unveiled the "Proposal for the Future of O'Hare", an ambitious plan to reconfigure O'Hare to include six parallel runways. Governor Ryan then held several public hearings on the Mayor's proposal across the region over the summer. On December 5, 2001, the Mayor and Governor reached an agreement to expand aviation capacity in the Chicago region. The agreement between Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley was nothing short of historic. In making this pact they overcame a decades-long political stalemate that had blocked meaningful and much-needed improvements in the Chicago region's aviation system. The agreement included the Mayor's plan for the reconfiguration of O'Hare, western roadway access to O'Hare, additional funding for O'Hare noise mitigation, a new airport in Peotone, and the preservation of Meigs Field.
With a local agreement in hand, Mayor Daley and Governor Ryan asked U.S. House Speaker Hastert, Congressman Lipinski, and U.S. Senator Durbin to codify their deal in federal legislation. Congressional approval of the agreement was important because it would prevent local politics from reversing or undercutting the agreement and it would lay the groundwork for seeking federal funding. Congressional action was justified because O'Hare is the busiest airport in the world and a key hub in the national aviation system.
The Civic Committee worked closely throughout the year with Senator Durbin, Speaker Hastert, and other members of Congress to ratify the airport agreement on the federal level. In the 107th Congress, both Senator Durbin and Congressman Lipinski introduced legislation in their respective chambers to ratify the terms of airport agreement between Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley; Durbin's bill was S. 2039 and Lipinski's was H.R. 3479. The bills were reviewed extensively by committees in both the U.S. House and Senate. Throughout the committee review process, the legislation was amended to address various concerns. The legislation preserved the full scope of environmental, safety, and other FAA reviews. It also preserved competitive access to O'Hare for all airlines.
After a successful hearing on H.R. 3479 in the House Aviation Subcommittee on March 6th, the full U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill by an overwhelming margin of 343-87 on July 23, 2002.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on S.2039 on March 21st. Civic Committee member and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner testified at the Senate hearing (click here to view the testimony). On April 18th, the Senate Commerce Committee approved S. 2039 by a wide, bi-partisan margin of 19 to 4 - all 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans on the Committee voted in favor of the bill.
Senators Durbin and Grassley (R-IA) worked hard throughout the year to build support for a vote on the bill by the full U.S. Senate. Senator Fitzgerald threatened to filibuster the measure, but Senators Durbin and Grassley secured the 60 commitments necessary to invoke cloture on the bill to override the filibuster; they obtained commitments from 61 Senators (48 Democrats, 12 Republicans and 1 Independent) to override a Fitzgerald filibuster. Unfortunately, due to the election year and shortened Senate scheduled, they were not able to bring the bill up for a vote before the end of the year.