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Fri, Jan 25, 2008

Chicago, FAA Sign Agreement On New ORD Control Tower

May Not Be Needed If Expansion Plans Shot Down

Earlier this month, the city of Chicago signed a 20-year agreement under which the FAA will pay the city $42.3 million to occupy the North Air Traffic Control Tower now under construction as part of the O’Hare Modernization Program. Mayor Richard Daley and US Senator Dick Durbin made the announcement at a joint press conference.

The agreement will allow Chicago to recover money spent in construction, and Daly's office says it comes in time to ensure the tower can be up and running in time for the November christening of O'Hare's new runway 9L/27R.

Chicago grew to become a major transportation center during the heydays of the railroads and Great Lakes shipping, and Daly said transportation remains a key to the city's future.

"O’Hare International Airport is the engine of the Chicago area economy and our connection to the rest of the world,” said the mayor at the press briefing. “O’Hare is the key to securing Chicago’s future role as a transportation center and a major force in the global economy."

Adding a federal perspective, Durbin noted, "This agreement is good for the FAA, good for the City of Chicago and good for our nation’s air travelers. We now have a state-of-the-art air traffic control tower as part of a modernization project that will help reduce delays and congestion while increasing safety and capacity."

While the agreement is a ray of sunshine in a 30-year storm of controversy over expansion at O'Hare, the fight is not over. Of the just-signed agreement, Elk Grove Village Mayor and O'Hare expansion opponent Craig Johnson observes, "It's going to be a tower for nothing if they don't complete the expansion and there's a good chance they won't."

The second phase of the expansion plan would require relocation not only  of dozens of residents and businesses, but also every grave in a 150-year-old church cemetery. The plan is expected to draw protests, and has already been hit with one lawsuit.

The St. John's United Church of Christ claims the federal government is violating its own federal Religious Freedom Act, because the commitment of federal funds would bind the city of Chicago to complete the expansion.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.ohare.com

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