CHICAGO – Gov. George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, under pressure from Congress and frustrated airline passengers, announced Wednesday night they have agreed on a plan to expand O'Hare International Airport to deal with chronic delays.
The plan would give each man something he wanted and the other didn't. Daley would get a new southern runway at O'Hare, and Ryan would proceed with plans to build an airport in Peotone, about 30 miles south of Chicago and near his hometown of Kankakee.
"This is the world series of all economic development projects," Ryan said of a proposal that would add an estimated 195,000 more workers at the nation's second-busiest airport, which employs about 500,000 people now.
The proposal would keep Chicago's lakefront Meigs Field open for 25 years. The commuter airport, popular with business executives and state officials, had been scheduled to close in February. The city planned to turn it into a park.
"This is all compromise," said Daley, who appeared tired after meeting for more than two hours with Ryan before the two addressed reporters. "There isn't any 100 percent either way."
Ryan said the proposal was virtually identical to one he made on his own Monday, the only difference being funding of Meigs. Daley, in a written statement, said the airfield's operating expenses would be financed by assessments on O'Hare's two largest carriers, American and United airlines.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who earlier had said he was prepared to try to push through a deal through Congress if Ryan and Daley could agree, called Wednesday night's agreement a "historic night that has been more than 25 years in the making."
"The modernization of O'Hare and movement forward on the proposed south suburban airport near Peotone may not be the most popular thing to do, but they are the right things to do," Durbin said in a statement.
A spokesman said Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., had not seen a copy of the agreement and declined to comment Wednesday night.
Fitzgerald is opposed to an airport at Peotone and has argued it would be a "travesty" for Ryan and Daley to consider having Congress legitimize an O'Hare runway plan that has not been approved by pilots, air controllers and the FAA for flight safety.
Bensenville Mayor John Geils, president of a group fighting Chicago in court over O'Hare noise, called the proposal "the largest public works boondoggle in the history of Illinois."
"This is certainly an incredulous act, a back-room deal that's about dividing up pork and providing opportunities for the City Hall cronies," Geils told WLS-TV in Chicago. "It certainly isn't about the aviation future of Illinois."
Community groups and leaders in Chicago's western suburbs around O'Hare have fiercely fought proposals to add runways or expand the number of flights, complaining of noise and air pollution and reduced property values.
Daley and Ryan's deliberations over expanding O'Hare began in earnest this summer, when Daley proposed a $6 billion package that included reconfiguring several O'Hare runways and adding one on the airport's southern side.
Ryan, in a counterproposal, signed on to the reconfiguring but balked at the new runway. During his gubernatorial campaign, Ryan promised no new O'Hare runways.
The proposal agreed to Wednesday will require the demolition of about 500 homes to make way for the new runway.