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02/03/2009

O'Hare Bailout?

   As recently as last September, the City of Chicago's multi-billion dollar O'Hare Modernization Project (OMP) was in serious trouble.  Not only had the lawsuits caused construction delays and increased costs, more critically, recession-wracked United and American Airlines issued statements declaring there was no way they'd be able to pay their promised shares of the big and growing price tag.

   By October, the economy had worsened.  By November, it had really gone into the tank.  It appeared that OMP, an essential element in the city's bid to attract the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago, was as stalled as a passenger jet on a snowbound O'Hare runway in December.

  Then suddenly, in the midst of the worst U.S. recession since the early 1980's, democrats and republicans in Washington began talk of a massive federal stimulus plan ($800+ billion) to put millions of people to work rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.  And blessing of blessings, a Chicago guy had just been elected President of the United States and had chosen an Illinois congressman (Ray LaHood, R-Peoria) as his Transportation Secretary.

  I spoke recently to U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Northbrook) who told me that he would consider OMP one of the most eligible public works projects in the country when it comes to money from the stimulus plan.  He says OMP is "shovel-ready", could put thousands of people to work within weeks and would serve the national interest because more runways to lessen congestion at O'Hare would reduce it at airports around the country.

  I learned this morning that OMP director Rosemarie Andolino traveled to Washington to discuss the project with Obama Administration officials before the inauguration.  Mayor Daley and other members of the city's Capitol Hill delegation are not saying much publicly, but the Mayor did indicate this week (Tuesday) that one possible problem would be oversight.   What amount of control would the city have to give up if it accepted billions of federal dollars to expand O'Hare which has always been a project controlled by city hall? 

  And one other thought:  With the words "Chicago" and "Illinois" mentioned so often in recent days in the same sentences as the words "corruption" and "Blagojevich"...its easy to understand why the powers-that-be in Washington would think twice, or maybe three or four times, before sending billions of dollars here.


 

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